De­fen­sive frail­ties could end up cost­ing Jack­man dearly at the Drag­ons

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT ON SUNDAY - ANDY HOW­ELL Rugby cor­re­spon­dent­ell@waleson­

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.

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