THE isolating Scarlets and Cardiff have been worried about being competitive in Europe courtesy of coronavirus but the Dragons need to be more than that.

The west Walians have conceded their game to Bristol and copped a 28-0 defeat while the men from the Arms Park are hoping their makeshift side can put up a fight against Champions Cup holders Toulouse in the capital.

The Dragons don’t have quarantine on their list of problems but can’t afford a pointless trip to Perpignan in their Challenge Cup opener.

Six years ago, the tournament provided an escape for Newport Gwent Dragons from league struggles. A city and area have dropped from the name but it’s a familiar feeling in December.

South Wales Argus: VICTORY: The Dragons beat Cardiff in the last eightVICTORY: The Dragons beat Cardiff in the last eight

The Dragons made the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup in 2015/16 under Lyn Jones when they beat Cardiff in the last eight then repeated the trick a year later in the knockout stages under Kingsley Jones thanks to a stunning win in Gloucester, arguably their finest moment.

An awful lot has changed since those times yet there is still a Groundhog Day feeling courtesy of a poor start to the United Rugby Championship.

There was the high of the stunning win against Connacht in Galway but the other six games have been the same old story.

The glass-half-full brigade would say that it could have been a lot different with the bounce of a ball, that the Dragons could easily have stunned Leinster, enjoyed derby wins against the Ospreys and Cardiff and beaten the Stormers had they been a bit smarter.

But professional sport is about results and Dean Ryan’s men are 13th in the table with the Stormers, Bulls and Zebre Parma beneath them, all with two games in hand.

They headed into the season with optimism courtesy of a strong finish to the 2020/21 PRO14 and encouraging pre-season encounters with Leicester and Wasps.

This is a Dragons side that looks strong on paper with plenty of Wales caps; the hope was that they would at least be in the mix for the eight-team play-offs going into the run-in even if eventually falling short.

Instead Europe is needed to keep the season alive with the Dragons facing Perpignan (away), Lyon (home), Benetton (away) and Gloucester (home).

They need to finish in the top three or could potentially scrape into the last 16 by being the highest-ranked club in fourth.

Brace yourself for plenty of budget chat over the coming weeks with the French duo followed by the festive derbies.

The Dragons do have less spending power and have a thin squad in certain positions because of that but they should still be doing better in the URC.

South Wales Argus:

This is the third year of Ryan – the director of rugby is the longest-serving boss in Welsh professional rugby – and this is his squad. He has either signed players or given them new deals and he has reshaped his management team.

You often have to read between the lines with Ryan and his post-Glasgow grumbling was about the funding model that allocates the Dragons less of the WRU payment than their three rivals.

Yet the side that hosted Edinburgh and then headed to Scotstoun was not full of teenagers fresh from the Welsh Premiership, it should have performed better.

The Dragons cannot just rely on being fully-loaded; they cannot go to pieces when Elliot Dee, Ross Moriarty, Ben Carter and Will Rowlands, Gonzalo Bertranou/Rhodri Williams are not in the XV.

The supporters haven’t been in the stands to see a Dragons home win since February 2020. They need more if they are to keep buying into it.

This may be a relatively new situation for Ryan but he has only had three years of it. The punters have had decades of largely misery and won’t just be grateful for still having a professional team while hearing the same grumbles from the boss that they heard from Paul Turner, Darren Edwards and the Joneses.

The Dragons need some success and the Challenge Cup once again provides their route to some cheer.