THE Dragons intend to choose their next head coach before the end of the season – with Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Martyn Phillips labelling it as the region's biggest decision.

Ceri Jones has acted as caretaker boss at Rodney Parade since Bernard Jackman was sacked in December, the former Ireland hooker dismissed halfway through a three-year contract.

The performances over the festive period – pushing Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets hard either side of ending a four-year drought with a home success against the Ospreys – led to the forwards coach getting the job until the end of the campaign.

Jones has thrown his hat into the ring for the role on a permanent basis and is on the shortlist of candidates.

The Dragons, who are also looking to appoint a manager to deal with off-field rugby matters, want to have a deal with the head coach in place before the Guinness PRO14 finale against the Scarlets at Principality Stadium on Saturday, April 27.

South Wales Argus:

"As a board we want to get the appointment, although maybe not the announcement, done before Judgement Day," said Buttress.

"We want to know for the players and everyone else who the coach will be for pre-season and there is a shortlist of candidates.

"I am conscious that it is World Cup and there are a lot of good coaches that will come on the market and we have Ceri, who is a credible internal candidate.

"The board want the best person possible to be coach for the next three or four years, so I am also starting to think about timing.

"Is it right to get them for pre-season or is it best to wait for the right candidate after the World Cup? If it is Ceri then it's easy, if it's an external candidate then we retain the option to flexible about when they start."

Jones is on the shortlist but the twice-capped former prop will be part of the management team for 2019/20 even if he doesn't get the top job with the 41-year-old from Usk under contract as forwards coach.

"Ceri's long-term future is at the Dragons. He is very well respected by myself and the board and is clearly well respected by the squad," said Buttress.

"He is a local guy and I hope he is here for a very long time in whatever role."

The WRU took over the Dragons in the summer of 2017 and Phillips admits they have not made the progress he had hoped for.

However, the governing body's chief executive believes picking the right man to replace Jackman can get the region back on track.

"The biggest decision that they will make is the coaching appointment, because there is a good squad there," he said.

"I am not trying to put too much pressure on David, but if he gets a good coach and a good coaching team in place then there is a good squad in place.

"That's going to be the key thing in the next period of time and if you get winning momentum then I could be sat here in six months saying 'blimey, they are back on track'."

l More from Phillips on page 36