‘We now have a puncher’s chance, last year we were going in with two hands behind our back’

OPTIMISM LEVELS ARE naturally high around this time of year, but for Bernard Jackman and the Dragons there is something different about this year. There needs to be something different about this year.

Source: Camerasport/Ashley/INPHO

His maiden season as a Pro14 coach was a steep learning curve, the Dragons winning just two of their league games and changing little in the way of their wretched fortunes, while only serving to highlight the maddening task ahead of him.

Not many would envy Jackman at Rodney Parade, but the former Ireland hooker has been steadfast in his determination to change the culture at the Welsh region and give the supporters something to get behind.

And he knows that needs to start now. No more time for excuses, or morale victories, but performances and results which will bear testament to the progress the club has made off the pitch during his tenure.

A strong summer of recruitment will no doubt help the cause, with as many as 14 players arriving, including former Lion Richard Hubbard, Welsh back row Ross Moriarty and Jordan and Rhodri Williams from Bristol.

Jackman has not only shaped his squad and brought in players with experience, but targeted a certain calibre of player who he feels will add huge value to the dressing room and help the Dragons avoid being the league’s whipping-boys for another season.

“I missed the recruitment window so the squad was our squad last season,” the head coach says. “I definitely felt that they were lacking a little bit of experience and depth in a lot of positions.

“We had a lot of injuries as well so the guys that have experience in international rugby spent long periods out; key players for us, unfortunately, were out for seven or eight months. At one stage we had 26 players out injured and had to go deep into our squad.”

While the experience of playing Pro14 rugby accelerated the development of many academy players last season, Jackman admits they can no longer see themselves as a work in progress. It’s all about performing and, more specifically, winning.

“We’ve done that now, we’ve had our year where we’ve been able to do that and we’ve been able to recruit really well which has been brilliant,” he continued.

“We’ve brought 14 in and a lot of that young talent that’s been in the Dragons that maybe hasn’t had the environment to achieve their potential now has that environment.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Having a backroom staff who have the skill set but also in terms of the number of people we have in our backroom staff. We had a medical team with one full-time and one part-time. When you have 26 injuries, you can’t give those players the care, you can’t do the work in terms of pre-hab to stop them getting injured or to help them.

“We didn’t have the nutritionists, we didn’t have the massage, we still don’t have the recovery facilities but we’re working on that. So we’re putting a lot of the key fundamentals in place that you take for granted in other places but we’re starting to get them now which is exciting.

Dragons open their campaign at home to Benetton on Saturday week, before welcoming the Southern Kings to Rodney Parade in round two, giving them a great chance of laying down an early marker for the season.

Jackman knows the pressure will be on to deliver.

“Yeah, for sure, 14 of us as head coaches are all under pressure to get results,” he added.

“I think you put pressure on yourself. It’s pretty hard every Saturday, going home and having lost. We’re all in this to win. Externally, I don’t think that puts any more pressure on me than the pressure I put on myself to try to create a winning team.

“For sure there’s pressure and that’s a good thing to be honest. I think now we have a puncher’s chance whereas last year we were going into a fight with two hands behind our back.”

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