It’s never been so bad for the dread­ful Dragons... so how will things im­prove?

Western Mail - - SPORT - AN­THONY WOOL­FORD Sports writer an­thony.wool­ford@waleson­

LIT­TLE did we know when Mike Rud­dock steered the New­port Gwent Dragons to third spot in the in­au­gu­ral Celtic League back in the 2003-04 sea­son, it was to be the best cam­paign to date in their 15year his­tory.

With 16 wins from 22 games, Rud­dock’s un­fan­cied Dragons, largely made up of club cast-offs and young bucks, would only have champions Llanelli Scar­lets and Ul­ster in front of them.

It helped Rud­dock nail down the Wales job and master­mind that 2005 magic car­pet ride to the 2005 Six Na­tions Grand Slam.

But back at the Dragons, things be­gan tak­ing a turn for the worse to where they are to­day... fac­ing the prospect of the most wretched ever sea­son from a side in the his­tory of Welsh re­gional rugby.

We look at the rea­sons for the Dragons’ woe­ful sea­son and see if there is any hope for bet­ter things to come in the sec­ond cam­paign under WRU con­trol...

Just how bad has it been?

WHEN Ital­ian min­nows Aironi ended the 2010-11 Celtic League sea­son with just one win to their name in 22 games, they pro­vided some­thing of a laugh­ing stock among the other na­tions.

But they ral­lied 12 months later in the first year of the PRO12 in­creas­ing their win tally by 400 per cent, though it didn’t stop them be­ing re­placed by Ze­bre.

While South African new boys the South­ern Kings are on course to match that one win from Aironi seven years ago, in Wales the Dragons are also on course for a re­gional record.

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

That is one of only two vic­to­ries in the league this sea­son. Their other win was over Con­nacht the same month. The 34-32 de­feat to Ze­bre on Satur­day ex­tended a three-year los­ing streak away from home to 33 fix­tures, since the Dragons beat Benet­ton in Tre­viso back in March 2015.

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. But per­haps the most galling fact is no Welsh re­gion have gone through an en­tire sea­son with just two wins to their name.

What’s been the prob­lem and what im­pact has the new coach had?

WITH new own­ers at the re­gion, in the shape of the WRU, came a new coach, with for­mer Ire­land hooker Bernard Jack­man tak­ing the reins from Kingsley Jones.

He ar­rived at Rod­ney Pa­rade with a rep­u­ta­tion as a tough task master amid re­ports of caus­ing a ‘dessert storm’ at his for­mer em­ploy­ers Greno­ble.

But he im­pressed off the field dur­ing his first cou­ple of months in the job, adopt­ing a re­fresh­ingly open ap­proach with the me­dia and sup­port­ers.

Jack­man has been keen to point out fit­ness lev­els needed im­prov­ing, more as­sis­tant coaches were re­quired and that this was a sea­son of tran­si­tion.

How­ever, he will un­doubt­edly be dis­ap­pointed and per­haps sur­prised by the mess that has un­folded.

A scathing at­tack on se­nior play­ers fol­low­ing a mis­er­able 47-13 de­feat to the Scar­lets back in early Jan­uary didn’t get the re­sponse he hoped for, and the fact a num­ber of play­ers have known for some time they won’t be part of the plans next year ap­pears to have been an is­sue.

Jack­man is de­ter­mined to es­tab­lish a hard, hon­est and ac­count­able cul­ture among his squad, but it’s ques­tion­able whether enough peo­ple have bought into that so far. The chem­istry be­tween coach and play­ing squad just hasn’t worked out this sea­son.

Some of his team se­lec­tions have also raised eye­brows, there have been too many changes in key po­si­tions while their game-plan has been dif­fi­cult to work out at times.

Also the Dragons’ Achilles heel over the last few sea­sons – the scrum­mage – re­mains a worry for the re­gion with the paucity of top-class props at Rod­ney Pa­rade adding to the prob­lem.

Their de­fence has clearly left a lot to be de­sired under new de­fence coach Hen­dre Mar­nitz, with the Welsh side ship­ping 89 tries in their 20 PRO14 matches so far.

What are the mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors?

IN­JURIES, in­juries and in­juries sums it up.

And to some key play­ers as well, with cur­rent Welsh in­ter­na­tion­als

> For Ze­bre read Benet­ton; an­other painful ex­pe­ri­ence on the road for the Dragons

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