DRAGONS’ MIS­ERY CON­TIN­UES IN ITALY

South Wales Echo - - GUINNESS PRO14 - ANDY HOW­ELL

THE Dragons have just one more at­tempt re­main­ing to record their first win in the Guin­ness PRO14 in eight months – and how they need the morale-booster of a vic­tory over Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nal­ists the Scar­lets on Judge­ment Day at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium.

That April 28 Cardiff clash will bring down the cur­tain on ar­guably the most dis­ap­point­ing cam­paign in the Dragons’ 15-year his­tory.

The takeover by the Welsh Rugby Union and the ap­point­ment of Bernard Jack­man as coach was meant to re­vive the Rod­ney Pa­rade out­fit. Bring the good times back to Gwent rugby.

But the facts show re­sults have ac­tu­ally been worse than un­der the pre­vi­ous own­ers and for­mer coach Kingsley Jones, with the early feel­good fac­tor un­doubt­edly cre­ated un­der Jack­man hav­ing evap­o­rated.

You can’t hide from the fact the Dragons haven’t won in the PRO14 since beat­ing South­ern Kings in New­port last Septem­ber.

That was one of only two vic­to­ries in the league this sea­son. Their other win was over Con­nacht the same month, while Jack­man’s men have been the only team to be de­feated by Con­fer­ence B bot­tom club South­ern Kings.

The 34-32 de­feat to Ze­bre on Satur­day ex­tended a three-year los­ing streak away from home to 33 fix­tures, since the Dragons de­feated Benet­ton in Tre­viso back in March 2015.

The sta­tis­tics don’t look good and Jack­man and his WRU bosses will be des­per­ately hop­ing for a turn­around in for­tunes next sea­son when Lions and Wales duo Ross Mo­ri­arty and Richard Hib­bard are amongst a glut of signings com­ing in.

Jack­man had a clear-out of the team he in­her­ited. But re­tained young guns like Wales in­ter­na­tion­als Hallam Amos, El­liot Dee, Leon Brown, Ol­lie Grif­fiths and Tyler Mor­gan who should still be im­prov­ing, while skip­per and lock Cory Hill has been a rev­e­la­tion at in­ter­na­tional level.

How the new­com­ers are needed to push the Dragons up­wards again, it would ap­pear.

Even if the Dragons were to up­set the odds and shock the Scar­lets in their Pro14 fi­nale, this sea­son will be re­mem­bered as one of re­build­ing at the very best.

The WRU may well have ex­pected more, hav­ing brought in more coach­ing staff and the Dragons pos­sess­ing a stronger squad than last sea­son fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of Gavin Hen­son and South Africa in­ter­na­tional Zane Kirch­ner.

For what­ever rea­son, it hasn’t hap­pened for the Dragons.

Rightly or wrongly, they have al­ways been viewed as the lesser side of the four Welsh re­gions in terms of play­ing tal­ent.

Yet when you com­pare the per­son­nel avail­able to Jack­man to those at Ital­ian fran­chise Benet­ton, the aw­ful re­sults be­come even more puz­zling.

Benet­ton don’t have the same depth of tal­ent. Yet they beat Con­fer­ence B lead­ers Le­in­ster away on Satur­day to win for the 11th time in 20 out­ings this term, com­pared to just two vic­to­ries for the Dragons.

There is a 34-point gap be­tween Benet­ton and the Welsh side – and that can’t be right, can it?

The Dragons seemed on course for a much-awaited win when they led Con­fer­ence A bot­tom team Ze­bre 2610 at half-time thanks to Jarred Rosser’s hat-trick of tries, yet still found them­selves over­hauled.

Ze­bre have won five matches in this sea­son’s PRO14 to ac­cu­mu­late seven more points than the Gwent re­gion. Only South­ern Kings have a worse points dif­fer­ence than the Dragons in the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion, mi­nus 442 to 269.

Next are the Ospreys on mi­nus 77, which fur­ther high­lights the paucity of the Dragons and Kings.

The sta­tis­tics aren’t ones the WRU or Jack­man will look fondly up. What­ever hap­pens in their sea­son fi­nale with the Scar­lets, the ar­rival of Mo­ri­arty, Hib­bard and the rest of the cavalry can’t come quickly enough.

A win over the Scar­lets, in the mean­time, won’t go amiss ei­ther and at least bring some tem­po­rary cheer at the end of a cam­paign which most will want to for­get pretty quickly.

De­jected Dragons play­ers leave the pitch fol­low­ing their de­feat to Ze­bre PIC­TURE: Huw Evans Agency

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