CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Boss Jones is faced by half-back quandaries
PERHAPS it is the paucity of August action that will lead to Lyn Jones’ first Newport Gwent Dragons line-up being scrutinised with unusual intensity next week.
It is just eight days until Bath provide the sole warm-up opposition ahead of the big RaboDirect Pro12 kick-off against Ulster on September 6.
Most European clubs have already trotted over the whitewash, in fact, the Top 14 remarkably gets under way tomorrow evening when Montpellier host Toulon.
There has been no such luck in this neck of the woods – after a summer of change the new-look Dragons remain out of sight despite our desire for a glimpse.
There has been plenty of rebuilding since the Dragons’ nightmare 2012/13 campaign ended, fittingly, with a disappointing defeat to Edinburgh on a foul Scottish evening.
After all the fitness tests, energy-sapping dune running at Merthyr Mawr, weights, analysis and rugby fine-tuning behind closed doors we will finally get to see something.
At last we will get an inkling of how director of rugby Jones is going to do things.
And he is faced by some tough calls, most notably when it comes to the half-backs, the men who shoulder plenty of responsibility in carrying out the plans of the management team.
Not too many Dragons players are in the position of being to look back on 2012/13 with a great deal of pride but scrum-half Jonathan Evans certainly could.
The 21-year-old was unlucky not to tour Japan with Wales (though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise) after a breakthrough season in which he made 29 appearances and made the number 9 jersey his own.
Wayne Evans’ injury problems may have thrust Jonathan into the limelight but he was first choice at the end of the season by the sheer excellence of his performances.
It is natural to presume that he remains at the front of the queue this season, perform well and you keep the jersey as the old mantra goes.
Except he not only has the fully-fit Wayne to contend with but former Wales scrum-half Richie Rees, signed from Edinburgh.
It is a situation that Jones must handle delicately because while everyone will be needed over the course of a long season, it will be tough for Jonathan Evans to take if others get first go.
Then the call must be made at number 10, a jersey that seemed set to be thrown to Kris Burton first when the Italian arrived in Wales for pre-season.
The Dragons were crying out for a seasoned game controller countless times last season, despite the odd flash from Steffan Jones and Dan Evans.
That was why the management team pursued Andy Goode and Nicky Robinson before eventually picking up Burton, seemingly as their frontline 10.
That was before Lyn Jones gave the green light for the deal that saw Jason Tovey return after an ill-fated move to Cardiff Blues.
The 24-year-old made all the right noises in an impressively honest interview with me about his return home.
“It’s a second chance for me but I know that I am coming in as third-choice fly-half and it’s up to me to change that,” he said.
Third choice? Not in my book.
Jones and Burton have their strengths and will play their part over the course of the season.
However, Tovey is the most naturally-gifted number 10 on the Dragons books and should come back from the Arms Park with a desire to graft after learning the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
He returns needing just 10 points to become the leading points scorer in the region’s history.
Given the need for the new regime to get off on the right foot, the safe option would be to plump for an experienced Rees-Burton combination.
But Jones, who has stressed his desire to nurture young Welsh talent, doesn’t appear to be risk-averse.
And going with a bit of youthful exuberance backed up by older heads on the bench would make an interesting statement about the shape of Lyn’s Dragons.