IT’S UNLIKELY that there will be many television trailers promoting ‘the battle for eighth’ as the RaboDirect Pro12 heads towards crunch time.

Newport Gwent Dragons find themselves in the position of being able to hinder others’ play-off ambitions but their own hopes of being a top-half side were gone before the turn of the year.

They sit in ninth place with a good chance of chasing down Treviso in the spot above them.

It will be no cause for great celebration should they do so – they will finish as the worst-placed Welsh region after all – but nor should it be reason to stick the knives in.

Eighth is par. The placings since the advent of regional rugby show that to be the case.

There has to be a good dollop of realism and most fans at Rodney Parade realise at the start of the season that they are not going to be challengers come May.

But while there may be contentment at finishing at the top of ‘Division Two’ of the Pro12, there is no lack of ambition.

Plans are afoot to move the region forward in terms of training facilities, they are in a good place in terms of recruitment compared to their three regional rivals (who are being harder hit by the Welsh player exodus) and the academy pathways are finally getting sorted out.

However, any hopes of becoming a top half outfit are pipe dreams unless the Dragons start believing in themselves and nailing their opportunities.

Last weekend’s clash with Munster was yet another Groundhog Day occasion.

Darren Edwards must wake at 6am on game day to the sound of I Got You Babe by Sunny and Cher before watching his side fail to make their pressure count then ruefully reflecting on points slipping away.

The head coach pointed out that he has some young players that will learn greatly from the experience of being on the receiving end of a late blitz by the Pro12 champions.

A valid point... but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Of the XV on the field when Munster put their foot down, the quintet of fly-half Lewis Robling, flanker Jevon Groves, prop Dan Way, number eight Tom Brown and centre Jack Dixon boast just 78 regional appearances between them.

But it also contained an all-international back three of Will Harries, Aled Brew and Tonderai Chavhanga, captain Ashley Smith, seasoned regional campaigners Wayne Evans, Phil Price and Lewis Evans, a 74-times capped second row partnership of Rob Sidoli and Luke Charteris and 34-year-old Steve Jones.

Whereas Munster know what is expected of them, even when the likes of Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara are on Ireland duty, the Dragons often lack the cutthroat ability to seize a game.

Perhaps the mindset needs to change at Rodney Parade; perhaps talk of being the runt of the litter needs to be banished.

And on that front the current financial problems in Welsh rugby may help.

At times it must be hard to suppress a smile at the misfortune of others as their three rivals to the west cut their budgets and see talent head for pastures new.

The Dragons could be in a (relatively) stronger position next year and hopefully they will also possess the belief to take control in tight tussles.