THE hope was that the Dragons would profit from their Welsh rivals coming back towards them this season, but on a horrendous Boxing Day the gulf seemed bigger than ever.

The 55-21 defeat to Cardiff – who scored seven of their nine tries in the first half and had a bonus point inside a quarter – was arguably the Rodney Parade club’s lowest moment.

There is pretty stiff competition with the record 64-3 at Munster, the 60-3 against Glasgow in Newport, last season’s 73-33 hammering at Scotstoun Stadium, not to mention losses to Overmach Parma and Enisei-STM.

But on Tuesday the Dragons were obliterated by a Cardiff team who had a summer of chaos and don’t boast deep pockets.

We’ve been here before, but this has to be a watershed moment.

This season could have been an opportunity for Dai Flanagan’s side to close the gap on their three rivals, and thankfully the Scarlets' struggles mean it’s still possible that the Dragons could avoid being Wales’ worst.

They prop up the United Rugby Championship but Zebre and the Sharks are not out of reach either.

Cost-cutting for this season, with the Dragons now privately-owned after a takeover, is having an effect.

South Wales Argus: Dragons boss Dai Flanagan with forwards coach Luke NarrawayDragons boss Dai Flanagan with forwards coach Luke Narraway (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Flanagan is wearing too many hats – he is effectively a director of rugby on a head coach’s wage – and operating without a defence coach after the summer departure of Simon Cross for America.

The Dragons took a gamble going into the season with just one specialist fly-half in Will Reed plus 10/15s Angus O’Brien and Cai Evans, while they suffered from the collapse of a move for South African lock Deon Slabbert, who is now playing for the Bulls.

More power is clearly needed in the second row, especially with Ben Carter injured, and the last two campaigns are evidence of just how good Will Rowlands is; the Dragons were a physical force in the first block of the 2022/23 URC with the now Racing forward in the XV.

However, they should still be performing much, much better; the squad needs to be reshaped and it’s time to push some players towards the exit.

“A lot of players not good enough to be pro,” was the blunt verdict of dual-code legend Jonathan Davies after the Cardiff debacle and it’s hard to argue.

South Wales Argus: TALENT: Ryan Woodman on the charge for the Dragons in EuropeTALENT: Ryan Woodman on the charge for the Dragons in Europe (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Will Flanagan take a leaf out of Bernard Jackman’s book and use the second half of the season to blood young talent such as Ryan Woodman, Harri Ackerman, Oli Andrew, George Young, Brodie Coghlan?

Jackman put a few noses out of joint when trying to make rapid changes to the squad in 2018 but very few individuals proved him wrong.

There is a strong argument for Flanagan cutting his losses with some players and looking to the future, although young talent must not be flung in all together.

Passions were running high after the Arms Park shocker and the boss faces a key spell to prove he is the right man for the top job.

Do so and there will be an opportunity for the head coach, who is tapping into the experience of consultant Paul Turner, to restructure his management team and roster with some targeted recruitment over the summer.

Boxing Day was a massive low and there could be more pain to come before the season is out, but first the players simply must respond against the Scarlets on New Year’s Day.

Repeat the Boxing Day nonsense and the long-suffering supporters won’t be shy in giving their assessment.

Plenty of eyes will be on the Dragons both at a packed Rodney Parade and on S4C. It’s not overdramatic to say jobs are on the line.