THERE was little sign of what was to come when Connacht edged out Newport Gwent Dragons on the opening day of 2015/16.

A fortnight before England kicked off their World Cup against Fiji, the Irish province beat the Rodney Parade region 29-23 at a sunny Sportsground in a game that could have gone either way.

Under Pat Lam they would go on to beat the system, making the most of a season disrupted by England 2015.

Connacht, who lost centre Robbie Henshaw and prop Nathan White to the Ireland squad, built early momentum.

With the inspirational Bundee Aki and John Muldoon to the fore, they caught rivals on the hop with their daring style and impressively finished the job by turning over Leinster at Murrayfield to win the Guinness PRO12 for the first piece of silverware in their history.

It is not possible for the Dragons to be in the same place in 2020, but World Cup year presents opportunity for something of a cheat year, a golden chance to make strides and change some perceptions.

This season's league win tally is four with three fixtures remaining.

Bernard Jackman's only full campaign yielded just two successes, Kingsley Jones notched four in a year hindered by takeover uncertainty and in 2015/16, when Connacht were making hay, there were just a quartet of victories.

The Dragons have won more games than they've lost just twice – 2003/4 and 2004/5, the first two seasons of regional rugby – and would kill for a repeat of 2014/15 when under Lyn Jones they won eight of 22 fixtures.

They will still be up against it next season given that they have a paltry budget compared to their rivals, but it is a chance to make a statement.

Next season the PRO14 will start a month later than usual but there will be five rounds of action before the Webb Ellis Cup is lifted in Yokohama.

After that Test players will have to be rested – probably not during weeks of European action – before they head off for the Six Nations at the end of January.

South Wales Argus:

Caretaker boss Ceri Jones is in charge of shaping the Dragons squad for next season and Japan will be on his mind.

Since arriving from Gloucester on a bumper deal, Ross Moriarty has played nine Tests and nine games for the Dragons.

Expect a similar ratio in 2019/20 for the back row forward, lock Cory Hill, hooker Elliot Dee and hopefully flanker Aaron Wainwright. Brandon Nansen will also hope that he's with Samoa in the autumn rather than in Ystrad Mynach.

There is little value in having internationals next season and Jones, who will either be head coach or forwards coach, will want those who are there week in, week out.

Next season is one when the players who are just shy of Test quality will be worth their weight in gold.

The Dragons were put to the sword by one such individual last weekend in Ospreys full-back Dan Evans, a man who should never have been pushed out of the door at Rodney Parade in 2014.

That is why securing new contracts for the likes of Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Brok Harris, Lloyd Fairbrother – players who might not be considered stars by other teams but who feature prominently for the first team at Rodney Parade – is essential.

South Wales Argus:

That is why new deals for Lewis Evans and Matthew Screech were something to cheer, albeit the announcement was swiftly followed by disappointment when Hallam Amos' departure for Cardiff was confirmed.

Yet the wing/full-back's exit to the Arms Park highlights the issues facing coaches for next season – the Blues are boosted by the arrivals of Amos and Josh Adams yet it is Jason Harries and Aled Summerhill that will arguably be more important to their hopes of a successful campaign.

Next year players will flip-flop between club and country, something that should aid the Dragons in their hopes for a progress.

Whoever is at the helm as Jackman's permanent replacement has to grasp the opportunity to provide tangible reason for encouragement for the first time since Lyn Jones was in the hot seat.

Nobody is expecting a miracle to rival Connacht but everybody is demanding better times.