BRUNEL Road in Hinckley wasn’t exactly Fleet Street but it was a fine place to learn the ropes as a junior reporter in less manic times.

The internet wasn’t a particularly big thing for a weekly newspaper when I landed my first job in journalism.

Just a few months earlier Mark Zuckerberg had launched TheFacebook at Harvard and Twitter was a couple of years off. Even Bebo wasn’t around.

The pace at the Hinckley Times built towards that Wednesday print deadline, hoping the Mercury’s daily town edition wouldn’t scupper a story, and there were a handful of seasoned journalists on hand to offer advice and guidance.

Not only did they pass on knowledge and good (and possibly bad) habits but they also saved me from embarrassment.

Errors were (hopefully) spotted before being published and occasionally I was called over to be talked through how a story was being tinkered or even completely redone for the paper.

Those years as a news reporter in a town between Leicester and Coventry turned me into the sports writer I am today… so blame them.

Rather being left to my own devices, others were able to give me their time and help improve my output.

It’s the same in any walk of life, which is why the summer coaching additions to the Dragons’ payroll have been arguably more important than any marquee signings.

While undoubtedly the Rodney Parade region could do with a grizzly lock, a hefty prop and rampaging number eight, these are early days in the reign of Bernard Jackman.

The head coach only got his feet under the desk in June and that’s far from ideal in terms of recruitment.

The Dragons have added just five players – two high-profile experienced backs in Gavin Henson and Zane Kirchner and three front rowers that have gone under the radar in Gerard Ellis, Liam Belcher and Dan Suter.

They aren’t operating with a much bigger budget to 2016/17 and more money has to go on those players who have improved in recent years and now command higher salaries.

But the Welsh Rugby Union ownership has led to a dramatic growth of the management team and the ability for the coaches on the books to get on with what they are paid to do.

The mantra of legendary New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick is ‘Do your job’ but the Dragons way has traditionally been ‘juggle your tasks’.

Coaches have worn too many hats and spread themselves too thin.

Team manager Sara Davies left for a role with the Welsh Rugby Union early last season, a departure that led to the frankly farcical situation of elite performance manager Huw Bevan, a man who previously played a key role for the England cricket team, taking on more matchday responsibility and dealing with other matters on away trips.

It’s only now that a replacement for Davies has been advertised.

The backroom staff has been bolstered by the arrival of defence coach Hendre Marnitz – not since Colin Charvis have the Dragons had a specialist devoted to that vital facet of the game – and skills coach Barry Maddocks.

Such additions don’t help shift season tickets like the chiselled looks of Gavin Henson, but the appointments should not be underestimated and are vital if the Dragons are to stand any chance of improving on a miserable 2016/17.

This season was always going to be about laying the foundations because of the late nature of the WRU takeover.

It should be better but we cannot expect miracles and Jackman has cleverly given his charges the chance to show they deserve to be part of the new era.

This hasn’t been a revolution in terms of the roster but the Irishman is establishing a backroom team charged with creating a culture of excellence.

They will give those on the roster every chance of improving as players. If they don’t cut the mustard then they will be shipped out next summer when Jackman has had his first proper recruitment drive.

The set-up at Ystrad Mynach – and this is not a criticism of past coaches, they had their hands tied – is now ready to really improve players and speed up their learning thanks to the expertise of the coaching staff.

There is no need for ALL lessons to be learnt in the harsh environment of the playing field, much better to have a coach picking up on mistakes made on the training paddock and talking things through in the classroom.

Warren Gatland was involved in the appointment of Jackman and the Irishman will have learnt from the style of his former Connacht boss.

The Wales and Lions head honcho is one for delegating and watching for fine details at training sessions. Gatland empowers his staff and demands that everyone in the camp grafts hard with an appetite for improvement.

All of us, regardless of profession, learn on the job but now the Dragons have enough mentors to ensure the players know where they are going wrong and how they can get better.

They are in a better position to maximise their potential; if that’s still not good enough then it will be on to the next one for Jackman & Co.


WE are still in the honeymoon period of the WRU ownership of the Dragons and there is optimism about what lies ahead, but the start of the season will provide some timely realism.

The fact that the first ball will be kicked at Rodney Parade on a Saturday afternoon rather than a Friday evening is important.

In an ideal world everybody would get along but the WRU chiefs, who will be keen to hand responsibility to a new Dragons chairman and board so that they can concentrate on their own tasks, have to recognise that there is going to be conflict in Gwent.

The notion that all clubs will link arms and sing The Carpenters together is a little optimistic. The Gwent message has ensured that there is some goodwill but when it comes to getting punters through the gates at Rodney Parade, the Dragons are in competition with the other RFCs in the area.

It will be marvellous if some of those that spend Saturdays at Eugene Cross Park, the Welfare Ground, Pandy Park, Pontypool Park or even Maesglas Fields can come along to the occasional Friday night game at Rodney Parade.

However, time is precious and there are not many who can afford to spend it at two rugby games on a weekend. Money is also tight and there are not many who can shell out for both.

WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips has stressed on countless occasions that it’s now about the 73 clubs of Gwent but the success of the Dragons will be shaped by them also showing a selfish streak.

A professional side has to do what’s best for them and it is inevitable that they will put a few local noses out of joint. They can’t shy away from doing that in order to prosper.