CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons' front row emergency shows limitation of Premiership

THE saying that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting is an extremely apt one when referring to the signings of hefty front row forwards.

When Newport Gwent Dragons moved to solve their tighthead crisis by bringing in former Scotland international Bruce Douglas and ex-Wasps prospect Lewis Thiede on short-term loans from Bristol and London Scottish it didn't cause too many eyebrows to be raised.

But when the region announced that they had lured 39-year-old Duncan Bell out of retirement one suspected mischievous director of rugby Lyn Jones was playing a prank.

It was only when the former Bath and England prop was warming up before the Glasgow game with all the eagerness of a teenager tidying their bedroom that it was clear that this was no joke.

Yet it was a move that paid off; Bell put in a fine shift for 45 minutes before being replaced by Douglas, who did even better.

Unlike against Bath, Northampton, Newcastle and Leinster the scrum was not marched backwards, so in that sense it proved to be a fine piece of business by the Dragons.

But it was also one that shows the Principality Premiership isn't quite up to producing players that can slot straight in to professional rugby when required.

It can reveal a few rough diamonds but it can't produce a quick fix, especially not in positions like the front row.

Bell has years of experience in the top flight and it was preferable to tap into that rather than fling a Premiership player in at the deep end.

The Dragons management team had a brainstorming session last week where they put a host of names up on a whiteboard who could solve the problem. Finding a tighthead at short notice is a tough task but potentials were written up including those from club rugby, notably Ebbw Vale tighthead Robert Sevenoaks.

But not only is it tough to get a semi-professional player to get time off work at short notice but it is a challenge to get them in a position to avoid a tuning.

You only have to look at Cardiff Blues to see the dangers of throwing too many Premiership players in at the deep end, something that they have had to do in the capital because of a lengthy injury list.

Developing the likes of Andrew Coombs, Lloyd Burns, Kristian Dacey and Ben Morgan takes time and unfortunately the regions' lack of financial clout means that the process can be rushed.

The Premiership remains valuable for talent spotting and the Dragons are committed to using it (and on that front the regions should be encouraged to look beyond their boundaries, why shouldn't the Ospreys look to Bedwas and the Scarlets go for Ponty players?).

When fly-half Jason Tovey limped off against Glasgow he was replaced by 21-year-old Dorian Jones.

He had a poor game but has earned that shot after impressing at Ebbw Vale and then Cross Keys; he is a 21-year-old that deserves to be looked at and then, if he impresses enough, nurtured.

But there is a time and a place for bring players in from the Premiership.

Yes, it is slightly embarrassing that the Dragons have had to tempt Bell out of retirement but it is down to an emergency at prop and it's time for a fast remedy, not a long-term project.

Comments (2)

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10:13am Thu 27 Feb 14

Newport76 says...

Er... isn't that exactly what I said last week.
Er... isn't that exactly what I said last week. Newport76
  • Score: -1

4:06pm Thu 27 Feb 14

stevey says...

Trouble is the "regions" don't want to know Premiership clubs unless they are in a crisis. Why should they help out then and disrupt their own team?
Trouble is the "regions" don't want to know Premiership clubs unless they are in a crisis. Why should they help out then and disrupt their own team? stevey
  • Score: -5

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