CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Dragons will give us reasons to be cheerful
9:52am Thursday 5th September 2013 in Sport
FACES were glum at Rodney Parade last season and understandably so after a hideous campaign for Newport Gwent Dragons.
Fast forward four months and there are smiles and high hopes following the arrival of director of rugby Lyn Jones.
The management team is fresh, the squad is buoyant and the fans are excited.
Maintaining that bounce is the next challenge but Jones and the Dragons are playing the long game and the former Ospreys boss is targeting a cultural shift in the east.
"It's no secret that Gwent rugby has had difficulty with being positive, we are here to change that," he said this week ahead of the season opener against Ulster.
That's no easy task but he's right; for too long the talk has been about what the region has NOT got rather than what it has going for it.
The new head honcho is often branded as a maverick but that doesn't do justice to an engaging and savvy operator with a smart rugby brain.
In Jones' first press conference as Dragons boss in June he outlined his intentions to become the best region in Wales, why scoff at that?
We've almost talked ourselves into being among Europe's also-rans but why shouldn't the Dragons be ahead of the Scarlets, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues?
The region plays at a tremendous rugby venue, has healthy financial books, has a burgeoning relationship with Newport County and a much-needed training complex is on the way in Ystrad Mynach.
New chief executive Gareth Davies is sure to keep improving off the field and to challenge the notion of being Wales' fourth region.
Jones' task is to change that same perception on the field and he has good tools at his disposal.
The retention of Toby Faletau – a genuine global star – was massive and the Wales and Lions star will be surrounded by better players over the coming campaign.
And after the 2015 World Cup he shouldn't be the only one heading off to the Vale of Glamorgan in international period.
The region has produced top notch youngsters in Wales Under-20s stars Hallam Amos, Jack Dixon and Ieuan Jones.
In time they could be followed into the Dragons' senior ranks by Elliot Dee, Scott Matthews, Ollie Griffiths, Josh Skinner, Tyler Morgan, Alex Jeffries, Lewis Hudd, Angus O'Brien, Ashton Hewitt...
They will get their chance to shine and the raw materials are there for the Dragons to be successful.
Jones sounded like a mathematician when talking about what he expects from his squad against Ulster.
"I want them to play with belief and confidence," he said. "Give 100 per cent effort multiplied by 50 per cent more accuracy."
To be honest, the second part of that is gobbledygook but the rest of us also need to find the right combination of expectation and patience.
We need to demand more from the Dragons on and off the pitch while recognising that great strides are not going to happen overnight.
The region will take baby steps over the coming campaign and things won't always run smoothly.
But unlike last season we shouldn't go into games just hoping that the Dragons avoid embarrassment.
Ulster come to town tomorrow. Perennial Heineken Cup quarter-finalists, last season's RaboDirect Pro12 table-toppers and a side that went unbeaten until December last term.
I for one believe that the Dragons can ensure the Ulstermen fall at the first hurdle in 2013/14.
Jones hit the nail on the head; we can be a negative bunch.
But the team will give us plenty to crow about this season, hopefully starting this weekend.
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