BOSS Lyn Jones admits Newport Gwent Dragons have struggled to cope without the element of surprise after enduring a horror 2014 in the RaboDirect Pro12.
The Rodney Parade outfit have won just one game in seven since the turn of the year and have slipped to ninth in the table.
Their performances have contrasted starkly to those at the start of the campaign when their tenacity secured morale-boosting wins against Ulster, the Scarlets and Glasgow.
The Dragons headed into the campaign on the back of a shocking 2012/13 in which they finished with just winless Zebre beneath them.
And Jones believe that those troubles led to their rivals underestimating them, expecting them to be a soft touch rather than streetwise.
"I think that we caught a lot of teams cold," said the director of rugby. "Some of the work that we did in pre-season in terms of breakdown and defence paid off; teams didn't know how to deal with it.
"Subsequently teams are coming at us differently and we are adjusting to that."
The Rodney Parade region need to rally in order to halt a slide that makes a repeat of last year's 11th-place finish.
Cardiff Blues are just three points back and Treviso would chip away at the seven-point gap if they can retain their perfect Pro12 record against the Dragons at the Stadio Monigo this weekend.
It has been a chastening few months but the boss – who has already signed up full-back Lee Byrne, wing Aled Brew, props Boris Stankovich and David Young, hooker Rhys Buckley and lock Ian Gough for next season – remains optimistic.
"I'm excited by the future. After stepping through the door in the last week of May with everything intact ready to go for this season it was always going to be difficult for me," said Jones, who arrived from London Welsh this summer along with forwards coach Kingsley Jones.
"I have spent the year restructuring and reorganising with the resources that are here. I am far more optimistic about next season now than I ever have been."