Friday, August 9, 2013

Future of the Dragons

Gwent is a sleeping giant and it's about creating the environment to maximise that potential. - Lyn Jones

For sometime the Dragons have been Wales' fourth region. The region has struggled to make an impact on domestic or European competition. Pro 12 also rans and Amlin Cup regulars, the Dragons recent history has been terribly unspectacular.

Any sort of headway the Newport based region have tried to make has been scuppered by the pillaging of any star players the region has produced. In recent years Luke Charteris, Aled Brew, Jason Tovey and, most recently, Dan Lydiate have departed. The lure of Heineken Cup rugby and large wages have been more than the Dragons can compete with.

That tide may be starting to turn however. Jason Tovey has called an end to his Cardiff experiment and moved back to Rodney Parade, whilst their remaining diamond in the crown Toby Faletau has extended his contract despite interest from France.
Alongside them next season, Richie Rees, Kris Burton and Netani Talei will be pulling on the black and amber for the first time. Some much needed (and very talented) experience to add the squad.

Youth is one area of the squad that they will have in abundance this season. Over a quarter of the Welsh matchday squad for the Junior World Cup final were affiliate to them with players like Tom Prydie and former Ebbw Vale prop Aaron Coundley already looking to be the pillars on which the future will be built.

The greatest assets to the Dragons may lay off the pitch though. In an overhaul of staff at Rodney Parade, Lyn Jones, Kingsley Jones and Gareth Davies have been brought in to reverse the regions fortunes. With them comes not only a new style or new tactics, but a whole new attitude.

At a recent kit launch, Jones stated he doesn't want "second rate overseas players" when he could give the young Welsh players a chance.

A quote from Lyn Jones in an article on this very site read, "If they go, they go. There is another Luke Charteris up the valley. Just go look for him, get him involved and give him chances and they'll perform." Jones' quote is from an article posted in December 2011.

This promotion of young local players is exactly what is needed, not just by the Dragons, by all four regions.

Jones also understands the true meaning of 'local' in regional rugby terms. The kit launch that Jones spoke at was in Caldicott, away from the familiar surroundings of Newport. With the clubs new training facilities are due to be sited in Ystrad Mynach and plan to play an LV Cup game at Ebbw Vale's Eugene Cross Park, the Dragons really seem to taking rugby to the community.
Jones' language is also evident of his belief in a need to change the current style. Where many talk of Newport in terms of the Dragons, he says Gwent. Already he has broadened the spectrum and widened the fan base.

That is what regional rugby should be all about. The towns and cities of the stadiums are little more than a base, an HQ from which actions take place. Regions can survive by attracting fans in the vacinity, but to thrive the must more further afield. They must stretch out their arms to the whole region to gather fans and players to strengthen their foundations.

That said, do not underestimate how excellent a base Rodney Parade is for a region. An old fashioned ground made for rugby, intimidating for visiting players and officials alike. No soulless football stadia or all seaters here, just a good old rugby ground with a rich history and unabashed atmosphere come game time. Hopefully that atmosphere will survive the redevelopment plans.

With new coaches, a new batch of talent players and a whole new attitude to boot, the future looks bright for the Dragons. The future looks black and amber.

Richard Ashcroft - Future's Bright

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