IT was never going to be easy but a few more peaks were expected amid the troughs at Rodney Parade this season.

The summer saw the start of a new era at the Dragons but while those that have come in are keen to start afresh, the rest of us are damaged goods.

We don’t have the luxury of only looking at history to see what mistakes were made, we’ve lived through them.

Four months after I joined the Argus, the Dragons lost to Overmach Parma in a Heineken Cup play-off. That should have warned me.

There have been many heavy defeats with the bleakest arguably the 60-3 against Glasgow at Rodney Parade in 2013.

The loss of Ian Gough to the Ospreys, Rhys Thomas to the Scarlets, Luke Charteris to Perpignan, Dan Lydiate to Racing 92, Aled Brew to Biarritz, Taulupe Faletau to Bath, Jason Tovey to Cardiff Blues.

The promise of experienced recruits making a big difference to the young talent on the books, yet the same words being uttered the following year. Good players being released and going on to become strong performers elsewhere.

It is the paucity of good times that leads to an increased anxiety for things to go well.

This was always going to be a bumpy ride because if there was a league table for Europe’s three premier leagues then the Dragons would perennially be in the relegation zone.

They have had their high moments but the odd flash in the European Challenge Cup or when upsetting a PRO14 big gun in Newport hasn’t masked the fact that they are among a handful of clubs at the bottom of the professional club rankings.

That’s the harsh reality and it’s naïve to imagine that changing that could be a quick job.

Nonetheless, this transitional season needed to have a few more moments of cheer than we are experiencing and last Friday’s loss at Scarlets was alarming.

Defeat was expected but the manner of the loss was worrying given that there are four more months of the season to go.

Reinforcements arrive next summer and a sizeable contingent will go in the opposite direction but the way that results and performances have gone in recent weeks is of concern, even given the lengthy injury list.

Bernard Jackman has been blunt with his squad all season but there are only so many times that you can publicly call out players.

The wounds were still raw in the Parc y Scarlets press room at approaching 10pm but it was a risky strategy when the head coach said: “That group aren’t a hell of a lot better than that, but they are not as bad as that”.

It came on the back of the RugbyPass documentary in which Pat Howard is singled out for not working hard enough in training, leading to the South African apologising to his peers.

‘It’s not me, guv,’ is never a wise policy and creates division, so one only hopes that Jackman and his coaching staff are putting their hands up to errors and mistakes in the same way, because it’s natural that they are being made.

It’s strong leadership for coaches to be secure enough to empower players to tell them where they can improve.

The trouble with mentioning a three-year plan is that everything sounds like it’s mapped out – ‘in year one we will do this, then in year two…’.

Things haven’t gone to plan this season and the Dragons aren’t as far down the line as Jackman would have liked, a glance at the PRO14 table and recent results makes that abundantly clear, but dealing with that disappointment and staying calm is vital.

Are the Dragons better than they were last year? It’s hard to argue that they are, but we’ve got to have faith that progress will accelerate as the three years progress.

Those in charge have to hold their nerve in these tough times, but if we’re asking the same questions in January, 2019…


EXPECTATIONS will be very, very low late on a Saturday night in France, but the same was the case when sat in a rather sparse Stade Jean Bouin in 2014.

As is usual for the tournament, Stade Francais rang the changes and left out, among others, Sergio Parisse but still boasted a formidable side featuring Springbok fly-half Morne Steyn, Australia back Digby Ioane and a hefty pack led by now France international Remi Bonfils.

The Dragons went into that game on the back of woeful performances at the Scarlets and Edinburgh but, prospering thanks to freedom from expectation, produced one of the finest displays in their brief history to win 38-22 in Paris with a bonus point thanks to scores by Richie Rees, Rhys Thomas, Hallam Amos and Nic Cudd.

The following year there was one that got away – Castres edging it 32-29 at the Stade Pierre Antoine in November – but the following month the Dragons enjoyed another fine win on French soil.

Pau may have been more concerned with their struggle at the wrong end of the Top 14 but they wanted to build momentum with a home win… plus it was the small matter of the debut of All Blacks great Conrad Smith.

Once again the Dragons relished the underdog tag to take the spoils 34-17 at the Stade du Hameau, tries by Cory Hill, Jason Tovey, Ashton Hewitt and Carl Meyer earning five points.

Those occasions give some hope ahead of what is an extremely tough assignment in Bordeaux this weekend.

Recent performances and a lengthy injury list means that the Dragons will be unfancied – and the hosts will hope to put the squeeze on up front just like Brive did last January – but maybe it’s just blind faith that has me hoping they can produce a big performance out of nowhere.

If Bordeaux underestimate the Dragons then the visitors have to make sure they exploit that lack of respect as they did in Paris and Pau.

A host of key players are pencilled in to return from injury next month. How nice it would be to have an away quarter-final (a return to Kingsholm to face Hibbard and Moriarty anyone?!) for them to aim for.

Staying alive with a win in Bordeaux would top the pile of the Dragons' Euro upsets.