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The Dragons Have Woken . . . But Won’t Get Scary Until Next Season

By Graham Thomas

Something is stirring in the Dragons’ lair. The Welsh Rugby sleeping giants are slowly finding their feet.

For too long, the wheezing also-rans among the four Welsh regions – and none have run particularly well in recent years – the Dragons have suddenly found their voice, if not yet, their fire.

In the past week or so, they have been dropping player signing stories on social media like Springbok Jannie de Beer once dropped goals against England in the 1999 World Cup – five in rapid succession.

It won’t make any difference, yet. Not on the field, at least.

The Dragons host the Stormers at Rodney Parade on Friday night and not many people expect them to win, including the bookmakers.

DragonBet make the Dragons big underdogs at 4/1, even on their own patch.

The Stormers are 1/5, with the draw at 22/1 – odds that reflect the fact that the Dragons have only won three times in the league this season and we’re already in May.

But off the field, the club look like they finally mean business and have grown sufficiently tired of their less than fearsome reputation that they actually want to do something about it.

In the course of a week, the Dragons announced the signings of South African Chris Hollis, Australian pair Harry Wilson and Steve Cummins, as well as Tongan No.8 Solomone Funaki, and former Wales back rower, Shane Lewis-Hughes. 

They didn’t limit the recruitment drive to the dressing room, either. Filo Tiatia, an Ospreys hard man of yesteryear and former All Black, has been hired as their new defence coach.

That was followed by the news that Ryan Chambers has left his job as a sports science head with the Welsh Rugby Union to become the Dragons’ new head of performance, while overseeing it all next season will be a new chief executive in Rhys Blumberg.

Statistically, they make be the weakest of the four regions but they do some things better than the others, including their marketing and social media.

So, the new faces were all carefully announced one-by-one through their well-managed channels, while the nine players who are leaving were all lumped together in one press release.

Stress the gain, not the pain.

The big question for Dragons fans, of course, and those elsewhere who want the regions to throw more weight around – people like Warren Gatland, for instance – is will this make any difference out on the pitch next season.

The Dragons have not managed to get their win total for a league campaign into double figures since 2011, when they gained 10 victories and finished seventh.

Since then, they have spent a dozen years bumping around near the bottom and they have only managed nine victories across the past three seasons.

The Stormers game is the Dragons’ last in front of their own fans this season. They play the Ospreys away on May 18 and then finish with a clash against the Scarlets at the Principality Stadium on June 1 as part of Judgement Day.

The judgement on Dragons coach Dai Flanagan has generally been a harsh one this season, but armed by the new influx of muscle, he could flex his own ambitions in the next campaign.

“If we put an SOS out then it was for big men because we need power,” says Flanagan about the new recruits.

“The South Africans and Irish have big teams and we need to match that.

“We have skillful players in Wales and we have a great ball-moving team, with certain players like Aaron Wainwright, Taine Basham, Harrison Keddie, who can break defences. We need those big men.”

It’s a shame for the Dragons that those big units are not available to block the route of The Stormers.

The South African side are currently fifth in the URC table and recovered quickly from their shock home to defeat to the Ospreys last month to hammer Leinster 42-12 last time out.

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