HOW the Dragons would love to be one of the 10 clubs that are feeling the heat in a fascinating Guinness PRO14 run-in.

Caretaker boss Ceri Jones and his players are not totally devoid of motivation, they are desperate to end their embarrassing league losing streak on the road plus need to avoid the ignominy of being the worst of the PRO14, but the pressure isn't as intense as in most camps.

The Dragons, Zebre and the Southern Kings are playing for pride in the remaining seven rounds while Leinster's whopping 21-point lead at the top of Conference B means they have the luxury of being able to concentrate on European rugby until the play-offs.

But it's tense for all 10 of the other teams that are fighting for the top three and the chance to extend their season beyond Saturday, April 27.

Every point is precious and slip-ups cannot be afforded with the tussle for the semi-finals, plus Champions Cup qualification, likely to go to the wire.

All this while the management at the Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and Ospreys are having to reassure their squads in uncertain times, using every last drop of their man-management skills.

The wait for the new deal, termed Project Reset, between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four regions to be rubber-stamped has dragged on. It has made life hard enough for Jones and his coaching team, let alone those at the other three teams who are trying to also mastermind a title challenge.

We are in mid-February and large swathes of players are still heading to work in Ystrad Mynach, the Vale Resort, Llandarcy and Llanelli without knowing what their future holds.

The winter is always a tough time for professional rugby players whose contracts are expiring but it is unprecedented for so many to still be waiting on fresh deals at this time of year.

They are asked to fly into teammates in training every day in the knowledge that one bit of misfortune at a ruck or an innocuous twist when landing after an up and under could lead to an injury that puts them on the scrapheap without the safety net of a contract.

Tomorrow the Dragons will take to the field at Murrayfield with a raft of individuals – key players like Brok Harris, Lloyd Fairbrother, Nic Cudd, Adam Warren – having to put nagging doubts over their futures to the back of the mind.

For 80 minutes they will be asked to forget about their mortgage and throw their body in the way of rampaging Fijian Big Bill Mata.

Time ticks on and patience is requested, but the plight is not conducive to achieve peak performance.

A coach, who has probably been in this situation on the other side of the desk, can offer assurance that a contract will be on the table when the budgets are sorted but that will mean little until pen is put to paper.

You won't find many professional rugby players grumbling about their job – they know how fortunate they are to be paid for playing a sport that most of them love (occasionally you come across a sportsman who just happens to be good at something they are not overly fond of) – but this situation is not good for their mental health.

Of course it is essential that the deal between the regions and the WRU is done correctly rather than rushed through.

Nobody is asking for a running commentary of negotiations but each week that passes adds to the stress of the players and the information vacuum is filled by rumours.

That makes the situation on the field all the harder for the four regions, with the success of the Dragons' three rivals in the PRO14 run-in shaping how much money they will be able to bring in for the 2019/20 campaign.

Project Reset has a dramatic name but has turned into a tedious saga, yet the ramifications are huge for those players who are desperate to know where they stand.

South Wales Argus:

ON Sunday eight young Dragons took to the field in Italy with Wales Under-20s then two days later the region's under-18s celebrated winning the title at their Ystrad Mynach training base.

The future looks bright, but that has often been the case.

The Dragons have frequently had sizeable contingents in national age-grade squads and the next step is the hardest, as last season showed.

Bright prospects were flung in early with then head coach Bernard Jackman acknowledging that, because of the unique situation of his first year at the helm, plenty were being given a taste before they were probably ready.

The Dragons used 67 players in 2017/18 with a raft of them being handed a first experience of rugby against the big boys.

And handed is the right word, as Taine Basham acknowledged before heading off to the World Rugby U20 Championship.

"I know that this year the opportunities have been given to me but from now on they have to be earned," said the teenage back row forward in May.

The talented 19-year-old has gone on to feature in two Dragons games this season and can expect more appearances between now and the end of the campaign.

Basham scored a hat-trick in Italy and is clearly a bright talent but it's tough to take the next step and prospects must not be rushed, especially young forwards.

The Celtic Cup was a useful development tool and in the coming years hopefully the likes of Basham, Max Williams (who has been unlucky with concussion), Chris Coleman, Lennon Greggains and others will be regulars in the senior squad alongside 2017 debutant Jared Rosser.