DESPITE a mammoth pre-season, six months of preparing and fine-tuning, if feels that the Dragons are still in their starting blocks.

The Rodney Parade club still haven’t got the campaign up and running after three rounds of the United Rugby Championship but a daunting home encounter with Leinster is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Some supporters might be scouring the fixture list for the clash with Zebre, who traditionally provide some company for the Rodney Parade club at the bottom of the table, but a date with an Irish heavyweight in Newport is just what is needed (FYI, the Italians visit Newport at the end of March).

The first game of the Dai Flanagan era featured a shock win against Munster, so victory is not impossible even if it is improbable.

Regardless of result, this is certainly a chance to spark something when playing without pressure or great expectations.

The Dragons headed into 2022/23 with optimism but that has evaporated after just three rounds.

Two winnable home games against Edinburgh and Cardiff, teams that finished in the bottom half last season, were lost with bonus points little consolation. The second was with a whimper to allow their rivals to stretch their winning streak to 16.

South Wales Argus: TOUGH: Captain Steff Hughes talks to the Dragons players in the loss at MunsterTOUGH: Captain Steff Hughes talks to the Dragons players in the loss at Munster (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Munster away is a tough one at the best of times but the Dragons headed to Cork without 21 players courtesy of Wales’ money-spinner against the Barbarians plus injuries and absentees.

Wales Under-20s captain and flanker Ryan Woodman and tighthead Luke Yendle made their first starts for the Dragons and three players, lock Barny Langton-Cryer, wing Ewan Rosser, prop Nathan Evans, made debuts.

Giving youngsters a taste of the action provided positives on a predictably chastening evening in Cork that thankfully was ‘only’ 45-14 rather than the record 64-3 from Limerick in 2022.

The challenges have piled up in this first block.

Flanker-turned-hooker James Benjamin had to return to his old position after a quarter of the derby loss to Cardiff, forming a back row with a pair of locks.

‘Jumbo’ started at openside at Munster while scrum-half Rhodri Williams’ 100th appearance for the club didn’t turn out as planned – he was shifted to full-back after just two minutes because of an injury to Angus O’Brien.

None of this was in the summer plan, which plotted a fast start to the URC with four of the first five games on home soil.

Next up for the winless Dragons is a clash against a Leinster side who have bounced back from an opening weekend loss in Glasgow by beating the Sharks and Edinburgh with bonus points.

The Irish big guns have this week welcomed their World Cup contingent back and they could well drip a few into action in the lead-up to the Champions Cup.

Leinster will be strong whoever they bring over to Newport and the Dragons need to fire a few shots after a flat performance against Cardiff.

South Wales Argus: FORMIDABLE: Wing Ashton Hewitt is tackled in the Dragons' loss at Leinster last seasonFORMIDABLE: Wing Ashton Hewitt is tackled in the Dragons' loss at Leinster last season (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

They need to give their long-suffering fans something to get behind and must build towards the derby against the Ospreys a week on Saturday.

A six-day turnaround for that derby fixture isn’t ideal but it’s nothing they haven’t experienced before and the Dragons should go fully-loaded twice and keep the tinkering to a minimum.

Get hooker Elliot Dee back on the bench to pick up the baton from Bradley Roberts (who has been the star performer so far), challenge Ben Carter to dominate at lock in this next World Cup cycle, field a back row of Dan Lydiate, Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright, have the sheer pace of Rio Dyer and big boot of Cai Evans in the back three.

The Cardiff game was utterly depressing with the error count high and quality levels low, so this Sunday has to be about firing a few shots.

They still need to bring a big kicking game – it would be madness to go run-crazy from anywhere against Leinster – but players also need to back themselves with ball in hand like Dyer famously did versus Munster last season.

The Dragons have been poor so far this season but we are just three games in and a line has been drawn in the sand ahead of the fourth encounter, which is followed by the Ospreys derby and a double-header in South Africa.

In terms of performance, the season must start on Sunday.