CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: On-field Dragons delight mixed with off-field fears
8:01am Thursday 26th September 2013 in Sport
TYPICAL, just as Newport Gwent Dragons seem to be getting themselves in shape an almighty dark cloud is cast over rugby in Wales.
The Rodney Parade region have made strides on the pitch in the opening weeks of the season, playing with heart and determination to beat Ulster and the Scarlets.
Off the field they are finally recognising the need to improve their marketing in order to put bums on seats – even the simple act of a fixture board on the A4138 leading into Llanelli seems Don Draper-esque compared to what has happened in the east.
And their profile is soaring nationally; Lyn Jones was a guest on Sky Sports' Rugby Club and talked about the progress being made at the region while BBC's Scrum V captured the Dragons' preparations for the Scarlets clash in an excellent feature.
There is a mood of (cautious) optimism at Rodney Parade with smiles getting wider thanks to the travails of Phil Davies' Cardiff Blues down the road.
Of course there are still issues to be addressed, the most pressing being the old chestnut of whether they should be Newport Gwent Dragons/Newport/Gwent Dragons/Dragons.
That's an issue that needs to be handled with kid gloves and it could be seen as fiddling while Rome burns.
Because the rumpus over European rugby continues with Bath owner Bruce Craig yesterday declaring that the Celtic clubs are facing "financial oblivion".
The English and French clubs will not be playing Heineken Cup rugby next season, leaving a gigantic financial hole to fill.
Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby announced the creation of the Rugby Champions Cup on Sunday, inviting clubs from the RaboDirect Pro12 to join their breakaway tournament.
The French Rugby Federation said they would not give permission for Top 14 sides to play in a new tournament, telling them to take part in mediation with the European Rugby Cup. That won't happen.
It all comes down to a battle for control between the unions and the clubs and it is easy to adopt the default setting and paint the English as being greedy and power mad.
But I challenge anybody to read the following from Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths and not have some sympathy with their stance.
"I don't think we are seeking to tear up the fabric of European rugby," he said.
"We are certainly not seeking to make anyone in European rugby have a worse situation than they currently have.
"What we are doing is creating a European competition which is not played by clubs and run by unions, but played by clubs and run by clubs."
That seems fair enough.
Clubs must be given the chance to run the competition and the English have the financial clout to try and achieve that courtesy of their bumper deal with BT Sport.
They should be free to make their own business choices while the RFU looks after England and the grassroots game.
I've long felt that it could be beneficial for both sides if the Welsh Rugby Union, who this week released financial figures that showed they dished out £6.4million to the regions, empowered Newport Gwent Dragons, the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets.
But there is a fear that loosening the leash across Europe may jeopardise Test rugby's position at the top of the tree.
In football the international game doesn't have the same appeal as the Champions League, which is arguably of better standard that the fare served up at World Cups.
Clubs in the Top 14 already look after number one by signing a raft of overseas stars as the expense of developing their own French talent. The Unions fear that a new tournament could open the door for similar approaches.
It's all part of a power game that means that the current on-field joy at Rodney Parade is mixed with off-field fears for the future.
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