VICTORY went to the man in the blue corner when the Dragons and Gloucester faced off at Kingsholm a year and a half ago.

In a European Challenge Cup quarter-final, then Wales hopeful Elliot Dee got the better of Wales international Richard Hibbard in their personal duel.

Not many have outplayed Hibbard in cherry and white with the 34-year-old becoming a firm fans’ favourite thanks to the sort of commitment that means he smashes into every opponent with the same glee as he did the Wallabies with the Lions in 2013.

But Dee, a fierce competitor, outshone Hibbard when the two locked horns in Gloucester and will relish the chance to do the same when they are on the same side.

South Wales Argus:

This week’s signing of the former Wales international – I say former, who knows, perhaps his tally of 38 caps could increase in the build-up to Japan 2019 – is another shrewd piece of business by the Rodney Parade region.

Hibbard won’t be arriving to play second fiddle to Dee. Dee won’t be giving up the 2 jersey without a scrap.

Undoubtedly the excitement surrounding the signing on Monday wasn’t shared all the hookers on the Dragons’ books with Rhys Buckley currently unable to impress new boss Bernard Jackman because of a back problem while summer recruits Gerard Ellis and Liam Belcher have been somewhat peripheral figures and Ellis Shipp is one for the future.

But that shows why the Dragons moved for Hibbard despite him having another year to run on his Gloucester deal.

Dee has had a stupendous start to the season that was justly rewarded with an international debut against Georgia and a second cap against the Springboks.

Yet the front rower has shouldered a heavy burden in the eight games he has played this season – the full 80 minutes against Newcastle, Cardiff Blues, the Southern Kings, 77 versus Connacht, 72 against the Ospreys, 71 in Edinburgh.

That’s partly down to form as he is playing out of his skin yet it can’t just be that, the management must also feel that the drop-off is too severe to the man that is wearing the 16 jersey.

Given that Dee headed into this season on the back of a nightmare season that featured three ankle operations and another on his hooter, it’s wise that the Dragons have moved to protect one of their brightest prospects.

The Newbridge native prides himself on energy and work rate – and his Test cameos at Principality Stadium were lively enough to make on wonder whether Ken Owens could have a new deputy against the Scots on February 3 – but now his enthusiasm can be reined in.

He can be given the occasional week ‘off’ with conditioning blocks rather than Guinness PRO14 action while he now has another mentor in the changing room after previously having crackers in Steve Jones and Rhys Thomas.

We’ve been here before, of course, but Hibbard has been signed with a double brief – put in big performances and bring on the young talent.

Fingers crossed the hooker will have more luck with injury than Lee Byrne, who let’s not forget was still putting in superb performances for Clermont Auvergne before he headed for Rodney Parade for what turned out to be a mere six-game spell as Hallam Amos’ guru.

Hibbard’s three-year deal raised a few eyebrows given his age and his style of playing the game, running hard and hitting harder.

His agent has done an exceptional job but the Dragons clearly have no concerns that the hooker’s body can last the duration of the contract, while their medical team will also help the region’s coaching staff be shrewd to make the most of their new asset.

If the same Hibbard pulling up trees at Gloucester rocks up in Ystrad Mynach next summer then expect a reaction from Dee, who has already been inspired by one Test camp.

And that’s the culture that the Dragons are looking to foster with a more streamlined squad of quality individuals that is backed up by academy talent.

Everybody is being challenged to be better; respond or have your weekends off until your deal runs out.

Hibbard should get a reaction out of Dee. Ross Moriarty should spur on Ollie Griffiths and Harrison Keddie. Jordan Williams can put the heat on Ashton Hewitt.

Jackman has been full of praise for Dee this season but has a horrible situation this week where the Wales new boy is pretty much certain of being handed the 2 jersey for Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day, and again versus the Ospreys on New Year’s Eve fitness permitting.

Dee will say the right things about competition being fierce and what not but he’s a shoo-in.

That won’t be the case when the golden mane of Hibbard comes through the door.

South Wales Argus:

RODNEY Parade will be the place to be in September, 2018 but the Dragons need to ensure it’s a hot ticket in January.

The future is exciting with Richard Hibbard and Ross Moriarty heading the list of new recruits that are joining the ranks in the summer, but we can’t wish away the next four months up to the season finale against the Scarlets at Principality Stadium.

This was always going to be a transitional season but we need some cheer to get us through the rest of it and I’m being greedy to demand an end to the embarrassing Guinness PRO14 derby losing streak plus a European Challenge Cup quarter-final.

The second of those hopes suffered a huge blow last Friday with a frustrating loss to Newcastle in front of a disappointing sub-4,000 crowd.

A two-point defeat to the Falcons means that the Dragons now need to double Bordeaux-Begles in January when a late winner would have given them a bit of wiggle room.

Hey ho, and there is no time for licking wounds with our only two Newport derbies of the season coming up one after the other.

Cardiff Blues is always a fixture that packs the stands and Boxing Day should be a bumper crowd. The Ospreys one is more of a challenge given the timing for television of 5.35pm on New Year’s Eve.

Nonetheless, punters will be flocking through the Rodney Parade turnstiles at the end of 2017 and it’s imperative that the ‘occasionals’ are given reason to return for Bordeaux in January, Glasgow in February, the Cheetahs in March.

We all know that supporters will arrive next season when Moriarty, Hibbard and maybe even George North are in the ranks. We know that those punters will keep coming back if the team is winning.

But the next two games provide a chance to showcase the Dragons to biggest crowds and it’s down to the coaching staff and players to give the marketing team a helping hand.

Sadly the thriller against Ulster, one of the best Dragons games that I have seen, was followed by crowds of 3,417 against Enisei-STM on a freezing night and then 3,949 against Newcastle.

It’s been three years of derby misery since beating Cardiff Blues in the capital on Boxing Day, 2014. Ending that streak at a raucous Parade would be just the ticket.