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Guiness Pro 14 Preview: Dragons

The Dragons have worked hard to overcome the difficult years since the beginning of the Celtic League. Since the second year of the competition, their best finish has been 7th. The Dragons will be looking at a head coach and pair of veteran players to infuse more experience into the backs.

Squad

There have not been many changes to the Dragons during the off-season. Tom Prydie leaving to Scarlets and T. Rhys Thomas’ retirement have hurt the squad, though. Bringing in Zane Kirchner has helped offset the loss of Prydie in the short-term, but at 33, will not be a long-term option. The Hooker position is highly contested since Thomas’ retirement.

Dragons will be looking to push the edge of last season, where 33% of their matches were lost by less than seven points. An extra push by the backs could help get the necessary points to move the Dragons up the standings.

Zane Kirchner- Leinster

The 31-cap Springbok is coming off a very successful stint with Leinster since 2013. He brings a lot of speed and flexibility to the team. He can play in nearly every position from 11-15. It will be necessary to move him into a starting role immediately to make their investment pay off. At 33 years old, there isn’t a lot of time left on the clock, so moving Kirchner into a starting position as soon as possible is essential.

Gavin Henson- Bristol

Henson has been all over the British Isles since the early 2000s plying his trade. The 33 Welsh cap fly half does not seem to have lost his touch as he has had a very successful stint with Bristol. In his two years with the club, Henson scored 271 points. As much as Kirchner is a concern because of age, Gavin Henson is even more so. At 35 years old, he is very close to retirement. Bringing in Henson at this late stage is likely to see him transition to a player coach role in the near future. He may start, but should not be the go-to 10.

Liam Belcher/Gerard Ellis- Cardiff/London Irish

Both Belcher and Ellis are young hookers who have signed deals with the Dragons. They will be entering a very heated competition at the hooker position. There are already two different players with the club. Bernard Jackman says he’s willing to consider a young hooker for the position. It will be up to both men to fight for their position to get the number 2 shirt. Expect them to gain time through the Anglo-Welsh cup.

Expected Starting XV.

  1. Sam Hobs- 27 caps. After transferring to the Dragons from Cardiff, Hobs has been an absolute workhorse, starting 19 matches during the season.
  2. Rhys Buckley/Elliot Dee- 68 caps/67 caps. The number 2 shirt is heavily up for grabs going into this season. Expect either Buckley or Dee to take the shirt, but there are as many as four players vying for the position.
  3. Brok Harris- 76 caps.
  4. Matthew Screech- 92 caps.
  5. Rynard Landman- 83 caps.
  6. Lewis  Evans- 204 caps.
  7. Nic Cudd- 119 caps.
  8. Ed Jackson- 36 caps. Jackson is filling a spot that is very thin for the team. It is difficult to understand why a number 8 was not on their signing list for the off-season.
  9. The Scrum half is too close to call at this point. The choices are between Charlie Davies with 42 caps, and Sarel Pretorius with 53 caps. Davies burst onto the scene two years ago making all 42 caps in two years. Pretorius is more established with the club over the long-term. It is anyone’s game.
  10. Angus O’Brien/Gavin Henson- 54 cap/0 caps with Dragons. O’Brien was a fixture last season with the Dragons. The introduction of Henson has made it difficult to choose the likely starter as Henson’s age plays a role.
  11. Hallam Amos- 83 caps. After missing most of last season, Amos will be trying to play his way back into a Welsh jersey.
  12. Zane Kirchner- 0 caps for Dragons. This is the most likely place for Kirchner to land. There are definite gaps in the field, especially at the 12 position. Do not be surprised if he plays elsewhere as well.
  13. Tyler Morgan- 52 caps.
  14. Adam Hughes- 117 caps.
  15. Carl Meyer- 57 caps.

Coaching.

In yet another head coaching change, the Dragons have brought in Bernard Jackman to replace Kingsley Jones. Bernard Jackman was head coach for Grenoble in the French Top 14. His one year stint saw Grenoble fall from the Top 14 into the Pro D2. That being said, Grenoble had been teetering on the edge of relegation for many years and the slightest breeze would have carried them down.

Jackman will be looking to improve the tone of a team that has struggled for many years to find their place. This is Jackman’s first experience as a coach in the Pro 14.

Schedule

The bottom of the Welsh clubs has a very steep hill for a schedule this season. As expected, they play all Welsh clubs twice, as well as Leinster, Ulster, and new comer Kings. In their cross conference, they are lucky to have Glasgow, Cheetahs, and Connacht at home, but have to travel to Munster and Zebre. For a struggling team, this schedule does not help.

Outlook

Bernard Jackman is a fresh coach in the truest of ways. He only has one year experience under his belt, and with a team that was relegated. It would be a tall ask of any coach, much less one this green. The team has signed some good talent that would have been better had they signed 10 years ago. Unfortunately, they have gotten them very close to their use by date.

With the layout of the team, a green coach, and very few roster changes, expect another year near the bottom of the table for the Dragons. There just are not enough weapons there. The ones they have brought in are not enough to build a team around because of their limited future with the club. This season looks bleak for the Dragons.

 

 

 

Pro 14 Previews:

Connacht

Cardiff Blues

Zebre

Ulster

Edinburgh

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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