A FRONT row crisis was a major cause for the Dragons’ derby clash against the Scarlets being postponed after Dean Ryan’s men went a fortnight without scrummaging.

The Rodney Parade region suffered a hat-trick of derby disappointments with all three United Rugby Championship fixtures falling victim to coronavirus.

The Boxing Day visit to Swansea was postponed due to issues in the Ospreys’ camp and then the Dragons suffered an outbreak to lead to the New Year’s Day home fixture with Cardiff and Saturday’s trip to Llanelli being pushed back.

They had just 27 players in training at the start of this week but were stretched in the specialist positions up front.

“Tuesday was the first time for just over two weeks that we have been able to train at a level of intensity [needed], specifically around the maul and tackle area,” said director of rugby Ryan.

“Last week we had 17 [positive cases] in the camp, there are some returns and some have been sick with it, plus we have had more cases this week.

“The front row is the one area where we have the least amount of flexibility and that has been a significant challenge for us. It's also been the area where we've been able to do the least.

“We put a scrum down against a machine on Thursday morning for the first time in over two weeks. The numbers we have got to be able to do that are pretty restricted.”

South Wales Argus: Dragons boss Dean RyanDragons boss Dean Ryan

While squads might be able to put square pegs in round holes in certain positions to get a game on, safety is paramount in the front row with players needing to be able to cope with the demands of senior professional rugby.

“It's a place that you can't make compromises in,” said Ryan. “We have a number of front rowers who have been part of this situation, but there are a number of other elements at play.

“It's not just about a positional situation, it's about health and numbers. At the beginning of the week, out of the whole squad we had only 27 capable of taking to the training pitch.

Several Dragons players have ended their isolation periods but haven’t returned to Ystrad Mynach after suffering badly with symptoms.

The conditioning department also have to be mindful that the squad have not played since mid-December.

“We've always tried to run some form of graded return,” said Ryan. “There are times when that has been cut pretty short but we are very aware of the health of the players.

“This time we have had a number that have felt pretty sick, so we are managing their graded return in a different way. We can't rush that period because we will be faced with more problems.”

The Dragons are scheduled to travel to Treviso next weekend to face Benetton in the Challenge Cup, although there is some uncertainty surrounding the European competitions.

Ryan is confident that they would be able to fulfil the fixture if it gets the green light.

“We are coming to the end of the two-week period. We hope to recover some numbers, subject to not getting any more cases,” he said.

“This isn’t something that we hope will be around next week. We would be hopeful [that Benetton goes ahead] but we are only one part of that equation.”