SIX games in and boss Dean Ryan has the base level for what his Dragons need to be.

If ever there was a performance that encapsulated what the region's supporters want as a minimum then it was last Friday at Murrayfield.

The Dragons didn't win, in fact they didn't leave Edinburgh with anything to show for their toil after a 20-7 defeat, but they battled and scrapped.

Richard Cockerill had talked before the game about what a five-point haul would do for their play-off ambitions and the Scots chased tries from the off, kicking penalties to the corner.

However, the Dragons showed tenacity and resolve to stay in the contest at just 13-7 down as the clock ticked past the hour.

It certainly wasn't perfect – and had the hosts scored a second try rather than a penalty on the stroke of half-time then the levee might have broken – but this was a team showing that they won't be pushed around.

The Dragons were organised, they stood firm against the drive and the power runners, they racked up 148 tackles and they absorbed the body punches in a game in which they had just 43 per cent possession and 38 per cent territory.

There was no split decision and the judges would have given Edinburgh 10s on the scorecards, but the Dragons ensured they avoided knockdowns to get 9s instead of 8s.

South Wales Argus:

If Ryan was to put a bobble hat on, turn up his collar and do some earwigging around the bars at Rodney Parade before Saturday's game against Castres then he would hear that supporters don't expect the world.

They know that their side has a tiny budget compared to their rivals and they know that the squad is paper thin.

They don't expect the PRO14 win tally to hit double figures, all they want is for the team to be more than the sum of its parts. They just want more than a handful of wins and to go down fighting in the defeats.

From the moment that he set foot inside Rodney Parade Ryan pledged to avoid dramatic weekly assessments and declarations.

The former Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester boss was never going to go throw his players under the bus despite the shocking performance in defeat to Connacht, just like he was never going to make wild declarations of their brilliance after the fine win against Glasgow or when the away hoodoo was ended at Zebre.

Ryan has avoided big promises and big criticisms, he has kept his powder dry and recognised the size of the task facing him.

The director of rugby may not want to make judgements so early in the regime but the rest of us can, and the Dragons are making progress.

The same was the case in the opening months of the Bernard Jackman era but this just feels different, the aims are more realistic and it is recognised that shortcomings will remain for years to come.

South Wales Argus:

Ryan is not daft, he knows that an injury to Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams, unsung lock Matthew Screech or a couple of props will leave him in a real pickle.

But there is reason for cautious optimism as we approach a key few months before the break for the Six Nations.

The first four rounds of Europe sandwich a key league clash with Zebre on the same day as Wales' money-spinner against the Barbarians. Then come the festive derbies and the conclusion of the Challenge Cup group stages before a month-long rest for the Six Nations.

Ryan has stuck with a core of players in the first six weeks of the PRO14 but knows he needs some contingency plans.

Fly-half Arwel Robson has to get a chance outside Rhodri Williams to prove himself as Davies' deputy just as Luke Baldwin and Tavis Knoyle must be given a shot at 9 with Davies at 10.

Lloyd Fairbrother, James Benjamin, Rhys Lawrence, Will Talbot-Davies and others need more minutes.

It's this situation that provides Ryan with a quandary given that there are limits to what the Dragons can achieve in the PRO14.

Realistically the region is battling the Ospreys for fifth in Conference A and will probably end the campaign with between three and eight league successes.

I wrote in May that I would welcome Ryan putting all his eggs in the PRO14 basket to ensure there is an upsurge in league performance at the expense of the Challenge Cup.

Now I'm not so sure. I'm getting greedy.

South Wales Argus:

The Challenge Cup has been great for the Dragons through the years and the draw has been kinder than last season, when Clermont and Northampton made qualification impossible.

Saturday's opener against Castres provides a chance to set the tone for the tournament. If the Dragons win and then back it up by claiming five points at Enisei-STM then the quarter-finals are a real possibility.

A last-eight encounter would be just the ticket come April when Aaron Wainwright, Cory Hill, Elliot Dee and Ross Moriarty (plus Sam Davies?) are back from the Six Nations and others have returned from injury.

The season wouldn't drift off and merely be about improving the win ratio; the period around Easter wouldn't just feature players talking about building momentum for the start of 2020/21.

That's why it's a key fortnight for Ryan, who has to tinker with his team.

Get it right and the boss will keep the Challenge Cup hopes alive while not jeopardising the bread and butter of the league.

It's logical to concentrate on the PRO14 and work towards becoming a side that commands the respect of Welsh, Irish and Scottish sides, but there is something magical about Europe for a side that is never going to be a play-off contender.