THE figures 24, 57 and 32 tell a sorry tale from the Dragons’ visits to Ireland last season – the paltry number of minutes it took for Ulster, Munster and Leinster to secure their bonuses.

The Irish provinces helped themselves to five-point hauls with demoralising ease and there was just relief after the last of the hammerings, at the Royal Dublin Society in November, that 2017/18 didn’t feature a trip to Galway.

The Dragons were woeful on the road in the Guinness PRO14 last season and their hosts got maximum points on all 10 occasions.

Yet in Ireland things were especially grim; the displays did little to change the perception over there that they are comfortably Wales’ worst region.

The fixtures were mismatches and Ulster, Munster and Leinster barely had to get out of second gear when racking up the points.

The trio crossed for a combined tally of 23 tries and 155 points, this despite Munster and Leinster being without a raft of Test stars in the autumn.

The three showings will have hurt head coach Bernard Jackman on his return given that the ex-Ireland hooker presumably harbours ambitions of one day getting a big gig back home.

Of course, the Dragons going down to defeat after crossing the Irish Sea is nothing new.

Since 2003 they have won just once in Dublin, the first trip to Limerick is the sole success in Munster, the solitary triumph in Galway was in 2004 (when Jackman came off the bench for the hosts) while there was a victory in Belfast in September, 2008 and then a draw the following season.

Wins aren’t generally expected but meek defeats are damaging, so in many ways this weekend is the biggest gauge so far of whether the Dragons are on the right track under Jackman.

Round one was a huge disappointment; there is no great shame in them losing to Benetton but the performance was horrid.

Round two was also underwhelming; they got the monkey off their back with a first PRO14 win since last September but the display against Southern Kings had large portions of shoddiness.

Both games were at Rodney Parade, so it will be something of a relief to have a ‘nothing to lose’ away game on Saturday night.

Yet this is a clash that will lay the Dragons bare, a trip to face the champions on their own patch (their first RDS game since lifting the PRO14 and Champions Cup trophies) is one that will test their character and brutally expose any deficiencies.

If Premier Sports subscribers are switching off at half-time because it isn’t a contest then the heat will be back on Jackman after the respite provided by the Kings win.

Leinster’s conveyor belt of talent means that a trip to face their academy team would be pretty daunting yet there will be gulps at midday tomorrow when head coach Leo Cullen names a team that is expected to feature Jonathan Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney, Josh van der Flier and James Ryan for the first time this season along with a glut of Grand Slam winners.

I am not expecting the Dragons to leave the RDS with anything to show for their efforts but I do expect them to provide a display to set up another must-win clash with Zebre nicely.

They must show fight, they must be bloody-minded, they must frustrate the opposition rather than their own supporters.

The PRO14 fixture list has been kind to the Dragons in the first block by giving them six Saturday games. There are no six-day turnarounds, there are no nasty travel weekends to Italy or South Africa.

That means that Jackman can just tinker with his squad rather than ringing the changes and holding players back for more winnable encounters.

When the Dragons went to Belfast last September it was always going to be ugly – the fixture sat between the home encounters with Connacht and the Kings.

The head coach changed 13 of his XV and was given precious few selection headaches in a one-sided contest, late tries in what the Americans call ‘garbage time’ making the scoreboard look kinder in a 52-25 defeat.

In fairness, Jackman's decision was vindicated when the Dragons recorded what was to be their second – and final – PRO14 success the following weekend against the Kings.

But this season the Dragons cannot afford to be throwing any games away, they have to discover the art of being mean on the road.

That may not yet translate to being contenders in Dublin, Glasgow, Cork or Llanelli but the habits from fighting hard against the title hopefuls will serve them well at the Sportsground in November, the Arms Park in December, Murrayfield in February and their April double-header in South Africa.

It’s been almost three and a half years since the Dragons last triumphed on the road in the league (Treviso in March, 2015).

I expect the losing streak to extend to 34 games on Saturday but if the region give Leinster a rough night then it will a job well done.

For years we wanted the Dragons to shake off their plucky loser tag, regaining it will do for now.