THERE’S good news and bad news for the Dragons.

Good news: the battle to avoid being the United Rugby Championship’s bottom club is shaping up to be a bigger one.

Bad news: Zebre are no longer hapless.

The Dragons are currently in the spot they have finished in for the last two seasons, one from bottom.

They have lost all four fixtures and are above the Sharks courtesy of having picked up two losing bonus points to the South Africans’ one.

Four teams have won just once – the Scarlets, Cardiff, Lions and Zebre – but the Dragons are in dire need of a derby win against the Ospreys, who are the early front-runners to be Wales’ best side, on Saturday.

Dai Flanagan’s men are suffering from their failure to finish the job when in a strong position in their tone-setter against Edinburgh on opening weekend.

The pressure is building and if the Ospreys are triumphant in Newport then things are looking pretty grim ahead of a double-header in South Africa against the Sharks and Lions that leads into the European Challenge Cup.

South Wales Argus: The Dragons beat the Ospreys in pre-season - and could do with a repeatThe Dragons beat the Ospreys in pre-season - and could do with a repeat (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The first block of the season was one of opportunity with four of the first five at Rodney Parade but it now risks leaving Flanagan’s men playing catch-up.

Let’s not completely panic – the season is just four games old and two of them have been against Irish big hitters.

However, the Dragons need to ensure the URC stays in three chunks – the play-off shoo-ins fighting for home advantage, those aiming to make the top eight, then the rest – rather than creating a fourth section containing a marooned bottom club.

The bottom block will probably feature the Welsh quartet, Zebre and, as things stand, the Sharks.

Fixtures against each other in this mini conference will be key and the Dragons cannot get cut adrift at the bottom.

They have usually had the comfort of knowing that Zebre were beneath them but the men from Parma have a real shot at finishing above the Dragons for the first time since 2018 (when the Southern Kings were also basement dwellers).

South Wales Argus: David Richards scored a brace in the Dragons' thrashing of Zebre last seasonDavid Richards scored a brace in the Dragons' thrashing of Zebre last season (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Italians have already matched their points tally from 2021/22, which featured one win, and are two back on last season, when they lost all 18 fixtures.

They are scoring points and are joint fourth for tries. They pushed Ulster and the Ospreys hard and then, after a hammering by the Bulls in which grabbed a four-try bonus, finally got their win against the Sharks last Friday.

While urging against Dragons panic, if they beat Cardiff at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Friday then they will climb to either 13 or 14 points.

That would be at least 11 ahead of the Dragons, who have totalled 19 and 24 points since the Pro14 turned into the URC with the arrival of the current South Africans.

Flanagan’s men haven’t won in Newport since beating Zebre last October – a run of eight losses (plus another in Ystrad Mynach) – and could really do with repeating their pre-season triumph against the Ospreys.

Staying in the mix with those above them is key and we don’t want to head into the New Year with a home Challenge Cup tie being the solitary achievable objective.

When assessing the fixture list there are winnable festive derbies against Cardiff and the Scarlets then a three-game streak of probable defeats at Six Nations time with Glasgow (a), Ulster (a) and the Bulls (h).

That is followed by some real opportunities in the run-in with Zebre (h), Benetton (a), Connacht (h), Stormers (h), Ospreys (a), Scarlets (a/n).

The Dragons would be a dangerous side with momentum and confidence but they need to stay within touching distance of their Welsh rivals and those that are unlikely to extend their URC season beyond 18 games.

That heaps the pressure on ahead of an Ospreys game that has the potential to settle some nerves.

With Zebre showing promising signs, the Dragons need to earn their stripes in the coming weeks.