"We're building something here, detective. We're building it from scratch. All the pieces matter."

Perhaps Dragons boss Dean Ryan is a fan of 'The Wire', the highly-acclaimed television series, because he has channelled the spirit of detective Lester Freamon since heading for Rodney Parade.

It's improving the fortunes of a failing rugby organisation rather than building a case against Baltimore drug gangs but the devil has been in the detail for the new director of rugby.

Ryan arrived stating that he was going to just watch and listen rather than come in with preconceived ideas, ready to swing the axe.

The no-nonsense former England forward has had his beady eye on everything since, both on and off the field, and is slowly but surely moulding things to his liking.

The progress under Ryan has been tangible – they sit fifth in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, with a great chance of finishing above the Ospreys, and a European quarter-final was secured last Friday.

However, one gets the impression that the notable, much-lauded successes aren't the big thing for the new boss. Ryan prefers the small, often unseen, steps to the strides.

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Making the last eight of the Challenge Cup in itself isn't a sign of the progress made under Ryan – let's not forget that the Dragons were semi-finalists in both 2015 and 2016.

Nor is finishing above the hapless Ospreys, who are victims of a long injury list, a rock-solid Champions Cup group and a complete absence of confidence. There are problems at management level at the Liberty Stadium but next season won't be as bad.

Recent failures – apart from early encouragement in the reign of Lyn Jones – have led to some getting carried away with the progress made in the first five months under Ryan.

He won't make the same mistake as those already hailing a transformation, recognising that there is plenty more to be done before it can even be considered a revival.

The Dragons are an injury to Sam Davies away from disaster; rugby revolutions are not built on the fitness of one player.

In the sporting world of what-ifs, Ryan's men could easily have missed out on knockout European rugby and lost all rather than one of the festive derbies had just three refereeing decisions gone against them.

It's been great to have some magic moments to cheer but the director of rugby has pointed out all along that he won't be influenced by the W, D and L columns.

Ryan has come in with simple demands of his players – work hard, learn, take your opportunities.

He knows that there is some exciting potential in his squad but he also knows that there are some limited players who are probably English Championship standard.

The coaches need everyone – those with Test aspirations and those with aspirations to just remain a professional player – to just strive to get better.

Ryan has not thrown anybody on the scrap heap, with Jacob Botica a case in point.

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The boss was probably too effusive in his praise at the start of the month – describing him as a "glue" for the attack – but he knows that he needs to get a tune out of the fly-half.

The 26-year-old, who signed from RGC in 2018, is out of contract this summer and an exit must surely be more likely than a fresh deal but he still has a part to play in the second half of the campaign.

Contrast that to the approach of Bernard Jackman, who was too quick to condemn players. The former head coach's judgement was correct – nobody has gone on to bigger and better things – but the way things were done was destabilising.

The second half of 2017/18 was a write-off, which piled on the pressure for the start of the next campaign and contributed to Jackman's downfall.

When Ryan was appointed I feared a gruff, authoritarian approach but perhaps he has mellowed since those days at Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester.

It's a long season that runs from the summer all the way through to the derby with Cardiff Blues on the last weekend in May.

Rugby is no different to any other profession; work needs to be enjoyable as well as challenging. Ryan, and his evolving coaching team, seem to be achieving that in these early days.

No games have been written off and the Dragons have been able to take something from each and every game, even that horrible drubbing at the hands of Zebre.

There is little as dispiriting as post-match declarations about 'taking the positives' and 'learning the lessons', yet Ryan has posed questions of his squad.

What would you have done differently? That's infinitely better than 'you should have done this differently'.

The Dragons earned a European quarter-final last weekend after making the most of a favourable draw and in the process earned Ryan another chance to watch and learn about his players.

A glimpse behind the scenes here, in the media portacabin at around 10pm last Friday I was trying to ensure reaction to a last-eight tie when the opponent wasn't yet known.

Ryan would have loved to return to France to see if his players had learnt from their six-try drubbing at the hands of Castres' bruisers.

"We threw the kitchen sink at them and learnt that some of the things that we do sometimes aren't as effective," he said in quotes that ended up on the cutting room floor, salvaged for this column.

"We learnt a lot because they play the game very differently to us and we've got to cut certain elements of that game off.

"We didn't against Castres and there were moments when we were on their five-metre line, we'd give a penalty away, a penalty away and a penalty away then suddenly they were on our line.

"If we put any French side on our five-metre line then the chances are that we are going to struggle.

"We have to be smarter and understand not everyone wants to play the game the same was as us, so that was a good opportunity to learn. Let's hope we can show that we have moved on."

It's Bristol rather than Toulon or Bordeaux, that after his squad must show they can cope without the Wales contingent in the PRO14.

"We are taking this (quarter-final) as an experience and as long as we keep challenging ourselves, in terms of what can we learn and what we can do better, then I'm very happy," said Ryan.

Win or lose at Ashton Gate, all the pieces matter if the Dragons are to genuinely be considered as a club transformed.