Defensive frailties could end up costing Jackman dearly at the Dragons
SOME may regard it as a victory of a kind that the Dragons only conceded 36 points against Ulster.
Certain fans of the Irish province actually turned up to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Friday expecting their side to score between 40 and 50.
When you hear that you know there’s a problem with the Dragons because Ulster, with their wealth and hefty crowds, are the biggest under-achievers in the Guinness PRO14 and are a squad in transition with a new head coach.
But virtually anybody who has watched the Dragons knows they have major defensive flaws. And Bernard Jackman (pic
tured) has failed to fix them since replacing Kingsley Jones as head coach 15 months ago despite having more resources at his disposal in terms of coaching manpower than any of his predecessors.
Last season’s statistics were the worst in the history of the Dragons and their defence continues to leak like a sieve with Ulster breezing through the holes in it for five tries.
The Dragons were without their six Wales squad members (five of them are forwards) and the injured Hallam Amos and Ollie Griffiths.
But that can’t be used as an excuse because their pack went well against Rory Best, Iain Henderson and company with Brok Harris and Nic Cudd outstanding.
The root cause of their problems remain defence. If former Ireland hooker Jackman doesn’t plug those gaps and they don’t manage many more wins during the rest of his campaign it could cost him his job.
Some die-hard supporters of the Dragons have already given up on him and predict he will be gone before the season is finished. I wouldn’t go that far but there is a lot of apathy in Gwent right now. The optimism generated by the WRU stepping in to save professional rugby in the region has evaporated.
One of Jackman’s first acts after arriving at Rodney Parade was to bring in unknown South African Hendre Marnitz as his defence guru.
Of course, players have to want to stop opponents but the funda- mental problem with the Dragons has been the alignment and positioning of their defensive line.
It’s remained the case since Marnitz introduced a new system of defending. Fixing a defence should be the simplest task of all but the Dragons’ is as bad now as it was at the start of last season.
The facts do not make pretty reading.
During Jackman’s time the men of Gwent have won just 10 of their 40 fixtures in all competitions. They won just two PRO14 matches.
They have scored 100 tries and conceded 163 while their points difference stands at minus 385.
The Dragons were victorious in just seven of their 31 fixtures in all competitions last season.
The only team with a worse record in the PRO14 was South African outfit Southern Kings, while the Dragons failed to reach the knock-out stage in the Challenge Cup or the now defunct AngloWelsh Cup.
The Dragons have been successful twice in the PRO14 this campaign, which matches their win total in it last season.
They triumphed in Romania in the European Challenge Cup before losing at home to Northampton Saints, worryingly for Jackman to jeers from home supporters.
When it comes to winning away in the PRO14, the Dragons possess the worst record in its history with the 36-18 defeat against Ulster stretching it to 36 matches on the road without victory.
Their last victory on the road in the championship came against Italian outfit Benetton in Treviso in March 2015.
And their try count per game isn’t substantially different to last season when Gwent favourte Shaun Connor was attack coach.
He was controversially ditched by Jackman at the end of it, with Barry Maddocks moving from skills guru in his place. It doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference so far.
He can talk all he wants about player budgets and development but it’s results which will ultimately dictate Jackman’s future.