Dragons look to make the most of experienced senior players
ROB Appleyard plans on using his elder statesmen to help shoulder the burden after adding to his responsibilities at Newport Gwent Dragons.
The assistant coach is now in charge of the forwards as well as defence following the close season departure of Danny Wilson to the Scarlets.
Former Wales prop Iestyn Thomas has been brought in as a scrum specialist and Appleyard, while still being the boss, intends to also tap into the knowledge of his senior pack members.
Steve Jones, along with Dragons Academy boss and former Pontypool head coach James Chapron, is already playing a role with the hookers, while Rob Sidoli is a mentor for the locks and is in charge of the region’s defensive lineout.
“I’ve got a heavy workload but I am loving it and I am excited by the challenges ahead,” said Appleyard.
“I will use the senior players and it won’t be a dictatorship.
“I am open to ideas from players, I want a two-way conversation and want to hear their reaction to my direction.
“There is a lot a negativity about player power but I don’t think that they want the power – they want to play rugby and have good direction.
“You can’t build a wall between coaches and players and it is the coach’s job to get that balance right so that the players go out there hungry and prepared.”
Appleyard’s prime goal is to produce a snarling pack that fights for everything, especially on their home turf at Rodney Parade.
The new forwards coach doesn’t want his front eight to take a step back and wants to hammer that point home, even if it means using some David Brent-eque management talk.
“We’ve been using the saying that a pack is only as strong as the wolf and the wolf is only as strong as the pack,” he said.
“We have mission statements: we’re hunting, so need to be organised; catching, where we get hold of the opposition; then we kill them, where we turn the ball over.
“It might be a bit gimmicky but it gives us an identity and anyone who has played in the forwards will tell you that they ring true – as an eight you can’t have a weakness.
“You are only as strong as the man next to you and if they let you down then you are out there on your own and exposed.
“I think that we were ferocious at times against London Irish. We kept going forward, delivered the ball at the set piece and worked hard on our ball carries.
“It was an excellent performance and we need another one against Zebre on Friday.”
And Appleyard has pledged that there is a clean slate this season and that those who impress on the training paddock have every chance of getting a starting spot.
He said: “People who work hard, people who train hard, people who deliver... surely you have got to select them?
“There is no pecking order or nailed-on starters. If the guy next to you is working harder then he is probably going to get the call.
“Of course there will be times when the opposition dictates selection but I expect there will be some new names pencilled in on those teamsheets.”
The Dragons name their squad for Zebre today but will be without full-back Jamie Smith (leg), wings Tonderai Chavhanga (knee) and Matthew Pewtner (hamstring), centre Adam Hughes (hamstring), scrum-half Joe Bedford (shoulder) and flanker Darren Waters (knee).