CHRIS KIRWAN: Proof in the pudding after tough calls in stressful January

JANUARY; a month of transfer madness in football and the cause of recruitment headaches and sleepless nights in rugby.

The way that the sport is set up means that at the turn of every year there are a raft of players that are out of contract. Such a turnover makes it a stressful time for players and management alike.

A coach lives and dies by their recruitment decisions.

If they splurge a load of their budget on a new boy that turns out to be a dud then it's going to be a long old season while if they can get a tune out of a bargain buy or two then they will be looking good.

They have tough calls to make and it's no surprise that they often go with players that they know and trust, as we have seen at Rodney Parade over the past week or so.

Director of rugby Lyn Jones has opted to bring in Lee Byrne, who he worked with at the Ospreys, at the expense of full-back Dan Evans.

It seems a risky move, especially given that tight five additions would seem a priority.

Byrne, still one of the best 15s in Europe, will be 34 in the summer while Evans, who has been excellent for one and a half seasons at Rodney Parade, will be 26 in November.

Is Byrne a better player than Evans? At the moment, yes. Will he be in two years time? Questionable.

But Jones has to consider the development of Hallam Amos, a supremely talented youngster who is learning his trade on the wing but prefers full-back. Byrne could prove to be the perfect mentor.

It's a risk but no different to the situation two years ago when Darren Edwards got it right. He brought in Evans at the expense of Martyn Thomas, a Dragons favourite who was blighted by injuries.

The move proved to be successful for the region, who profited from Evans' arrival, and for Thomas, who has done well playing in front of a packed Kingsholm for Gloucester in the Aviva Premiership.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating; coaches are paid to make these decisions and it's their head on the block if it goes wrong.

And in the mean time they have to get a tune out of players who have been told their future lies elsewhere and others that have bumper deals lined up.

It cannot be easy for a man to be told to find a new club and then be expected to fly into the contact area in March with the same commitment as they had back in September.

The same goes for those that are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime contract, who put their name to a press release that states: "I am still 100 per cent committed to the cause and will give it my all whenever I pull on the shirt."

But most are in a position of uncertainty as 2014 calendars are put on the wall, evidence of six months left before they are unemployed.

It's naive to think that all business is done by the time that the official window for negotiation opens on January and by all accounts approaches are getting earlier and earlier.

The heat is on for all concerned, especially when you through into the mix the rumpus over European rugby that has such a big influence on budgets.

The margin for error is tiny and January's efforts will shape what goes on in August.

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