AT the end of last season Argus readers were invited to send in questions for the Dragons coaching staff. Head coach Darren Edwards, assistant coach Rob Appleyard and director of rugby Robert Beale met rugby writer Chris Kirwan to provide the answers.
Q: How would you sum up last season? DE:
It was a poor season in terms of results, particularly at home, but I was pleased with the derby wins against the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues.
Against the Blues there were nine players in their first season of professional rugby and it is important players develop confidence to believe that they can win these games.
Last season was always going to be about change, and change can be uncomfortable for many people and in particular our supporters who will only see the end result.
Welsh rugby and the Dragons have gone through major changes behind the scenes that has had huge impacts on the team and our planning and preparation.
I am confident that we now have clarity in terms of a business plan and we have a group of players with huge potential.
Q: Why was our home form so bad this season? The Connacht and Treviso games made me wonder whether to renew my season ticket. (Andrew James)
DE: There is no getting away from it, those defeats were inexcusable and it’s important that we pick up our home form this season.
Treviso was actually a pretty decent performance in that we scored four tries but we conceded such silly points. Connacht was a diabolical performance.
RA: It’s tough because we have long-term plans and always just look at the here and now. The supporter pays their money and understandably want an immediate return.
But for us as coaches it’s not that simple, as was shown at the end of last season when we were blooding a lot of players.
Nobody likes losing and they were massively disappointing defeats – but they will stand us in good stead. Sometimes you learn most as a group when you don’t perform to your best.
We are confident this year that we will have more hunger on the pitch than perhaps we showed at times last year.
RB: Our supporters are entitled to ask this question and our board asks us the very same. There were so many tight games at home that we ended up losing and that shows the fine margins of sport.
It’s frustrating because had we beaten Connacht and had we beaten Treviso then we would have had a totally different end to the season with the Blues under pressure for their Heineken Cup spot.
But we didn’t and these guys have reviewed that. Losing home games like that is not acceptable to us and we have got to get back to Rodney Parade being a hard place to come.
Don’t worry, our coaching staff is working incredibly hard and they beat themselves up after defeat, looking at hour after hour after hour of footage in order to get things right.
Q: Do you have to worry about the commercial aspect of losing such games in terms of ticket sales? At the end of the season a number of our readers said they were in two minds about renewing.
RB: It’s chicken and egg – you want to sell something but you have got to invest to make that product good.
We probably are not at the stage where we invest enough for those players the supporters are asking for but we have gone down the route of investing in talent from within.
The model that we have decided to use is sound. It makes good business sense but we need to perfect it from last year.
Some of the performances weren’t up to the expectations of our coaches but we don’t think we were a million miles away more often than not.
Q: What are we doing to improve our scrummaging? Surely we can find a big prop from Italy or Argentina (Nick Williams)
RB: I have submitted a request for the Welsh Rugby Union to change our coaching structure because (forwards coach) Danny Wilson decided to move on.
We need to alter our structure and part of that process we have to have dialogue with the WRU. I am right in the middle of that and have submitted a job description for the perusal of Warren Gatland.
The major discipline of that job description surrounds coaching of the scrum.
DE: We have got some very talented front row forwards here and we really want them to get the best service.
Q: On that front, how did the Tim Ryan deal come around?
RA: It was after a deal for Deacon Manu fell through but Tim really impressed us in the Challenge Cup games we played against Cavalieri Prato.
He was a dynamic ball carrier and has a real passion for the scrum. He is a very aggressive guy who is determined to come here and do a job, he’s not here to make up the numbers.
Tim is a very determined man and we are excited about what he will deliver. We’ve done our research and he has a good pedigree.
What we need to do is work with him now and we are specific about what we have brought both Tim and Ian Nimmo here to do.
DE: I actually think that we have got a stronger squad that will constantly be fighting for selection and that we can put a more balanced side out. We have got a good mix ball carriers and workers.
Q: We have lost many games due to a lack of consistency from our kickers. Could Neil Jenkins be used for some training sessions? (Paul Ireland)
DE: Yes, we are using Neil and plan to do so more next season, we’ll see what we can work out with him now that he is back from Australia.
It’s great to not only have his advice but also develop a link between him and our young guys that we want to play for Wales.
We also have Alex Lawson who is a very, very good technical coach. He is our head of conditioning but has a passion for kicking and is going to do a very good job (Lawson is a former fly-half).
I think a key factor for us in terms of improving in this department next season is having two kickers on the field at the same time.
That was a big part of our recruitment strategy and it’s great to have brought in two full-backs in Dan Evans and Tom Prydie who can take on the responsibility, while Adam Hughes has worked hard and worked his way into that bracket as well.
Even the very best kickers have off days and when they happen you need someone else who can step up to the mark. I’m confident that we have the players to do that now.
There’s also a competitiveness amongst kickers – the player with the best record will get on that teamsheet. That’s great for us and we have to encourage that battle.
Q: Are there any moves to make the Dragons a development region? (John Janssen)
RB: No. That is totally unacceptable to the rugby department. We will continue with our policy of developing young players but there is no chance of us being a ‘development region’.
Q: One of the weaknesses of the Dragons is at scrum-half yet you have a young player in Jon Evans who shows great promise. Why does he get much less game time than the other two? (John Pope)
DE: It was a disappointing season for Jon because he came back from 2011 Junior World Championship in Italy and injured his hamstring.
It took him six months to recover from that and that is crucial for a young player, particularly when he missed pre-season when we needed to put a lot of physical work in.
Jon played a season of catch-up but I have huge faith in Jon and I am looking forward to seeing him compete with two senior guys in Wayne Evans and Joe Bedford.
Jon has tremendous athletic ability and needs to learn off those guys and demand that he is the first choice scrum-half.
He is a powerful, quick guy with a great pass.
Experience is vital at half-back and Jon does need a lot of exposure now, he needs to play a lot of rugby and hope that is with the Dragons.
RB: Last season he actually went away after Christmas with the Under-20s for the Six Nations and as a region we have to support that.
If we are honest we would have preferred had he not gone away for the (2012) Junior World Championship after having such a disrupted season.
In some ways we would have liked him to have a full summer to prepare for the season with us but there is a bigger picture.
We have got to support the Welsh Rugby Union in terms of producing players and this is also his last chance to play for the Under-20s and it’s in a world tournament in South Africa – hopefully we will reap the benefits of what he has experienced out there.
We all have a lot of faith in Jonathan, he is in the second year of a development contract and now needs to be pushing on.
DE: Regarding our scrum-halves, I think Wayne was not as effective as the season before but it is unfair to pick that out in isolation because he had two superb years before that when he was playing terrific rugby that allowed plenty of other players to shine.
It happens in rugby players’ careers, they have campaigns where it doesn’t necessarily go their way, particularly at half-back where you are reliant on many other aspects of the game to function.
It was perhaps an average season by Wayne’s standards but I have no doubt that we will see a response from him because he is under pressure to perform – that happened in 2009/10 when Wayne was on the fringes of the Wales squad after Danny Lee signed.
Q: Why has it not been possible to give Tonderai Chavhanga more ball? He is always dangerous but the ball is too often passed to the left. (Paul Ireland)
RB: Aled Brew could shout louder!
DE: We are actually planning on playing Tonderai on the left this year but the bottom line is that we do want to get him more ball.
I think our backs suffered last season through us not being able to be consistent in selection because of injuries.
That affects your timing and your work as units. There was also a bit of lack of form and as coaches we have to take some criticism.
That’s the reflection process we have gone through but we certainly want to put that right next season.
RA: We should also remember that Tonderai suffered a pretty big setback when he picked up a rib injury against the Ospreys (in January). He had just been settling in and picking up his form but from then on we just saw flashes, like the try against the Blues and the two he scored in Edinburgh.
Q: What steps, if any, are being taken to improve the defence? Is it a coincidence that the four teams with the worst defences (points scored) finished in the bottom four? (John Janssen)
RA: The way that defences are ranked is actually measured in terms of tries conceded and we moved up to seventh, level with Heineken Cup finalists Ulster, from 10th so I feel that we made a significant move forward.
Defence is the ugly part of the game and get it wrong and it’s clear for all to see. On the whole we were pretty good. We still had slip-ups – Treviso away was horrendous – but I think the foundations are there.
We actually had one of our best defensive seasons for a while but that doesn’t mean we are not striving hard to improve.
It was also pretty pleasing to hear when Wales came back from the World Cup that Warren Gatland said some of the defensive processes they brought in were things that we have done.
IN PART TWO TOMORROW: The coaches answer questions on recruitment, the Premiership, their budget and hopes for the coming season