CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Now is the time for Dragons to invest
10:30am Thursday 18th October 2012 in Sport
WHEN driving to Wycombe for Newport Gwent Dragons’ clash with London Wasps on Saturday afternoon the radio waves were full of praise for Charlie Hodgson.
The experienced fly-half was pulling the strings for Saracens on their way to the most eye-catching victory of the first round of the Heineken Cup.
Not that the 31-year-old won the official man of the match award in Edinburgh, that honour went to lock Steve Borthwick… 33-year-old Steve Borthwick.
Just hours later an inexperienced Dragons outfit were comprehensively beaten by their English hosts.
When watching back the footage on my return (yes, I am a glutton for punishment) it was interesting to hear the Sky Sports pundits praising the region for giving youth its chance.
Oh, for the choice.
Influential figures like Luke Charteris, Aled Brew, Tom Willis and Lloyd Burns have gone from last season’s squad and haven’t been replaced.
I understand that money is tight in Welsh rugby and cash cannot be splashed like Toulon, who have a queue of world class talent in every position.
But it would be nice if the Dragons’ attempts to unearth some talent – a policy of trying to polish rough diamonds as I have written about before – were combined with bringing in the odd top recruit.
The desire, guts and determination of the current squad cannot be questioned. To a man they graft and put everything in.
The fact that they have battled back in three of their four away games from the prospect of being gubbed to being on the brink of bonus points is evidence of that.
But it would be nice to give them a chance by supplementing their efforts with some quality, and the only way to get that is to pay the price accordingly.
Combine their spirit with a smattering of class – and this doesn’t even need to be the Bakkies Botha, Richie McCaw or Tendai Mtawarira level of outlay – and there is the recipe for a far, far more enjoyable season.
Because there is talent coming through and it is great news that talented teenagers Hallam Amos and Jack Dixon have penned three-year deals.
The hope is that they are followed by Tyler Morgan – a centre said to be even more imposing than Dixon – and the likes of livewire wing Ashton Hewitt, props Dafydd Morgan and Alex Jeffries, hooker Elliott Dee, and flankers Scott Matthews and James Benjamin.
They are all young players that are learning their trade in the Premiership but if they are to fulfil their potential they need to be brought into a side that isn’t constantly on the back foot.
One only has to look at last Saturday’s opponents, who are hardly making waves in the Aviva Premiership, to see the best way of doing things.
Lock Joe Launchbury and number eight Billy will be playing for England in the near future but in the Amlin Challenge Cup opener they slotted in alongside experienced – and hard – southern hemisphere players of the calibre of Marco Wentzel, Ashley Johnson and Jonathan Poff.
The same goes for centre Elliot Daly, who plays outside either Stephen Jones or Nicky Robinson.
The Dragons coaching staff aren’t perfect – and I am sure they would be the first to admit their shortcomings – but it appears they are being hung out to dry.
Bring in new staff and the same old problems would exist.
Investment is required because at the moment the Dragons are taking part in a duel with a snowball as their weapon while their opponents are toting shotguns.