Friday 23 August 2019

Moriarty's Dragons deal a signal of Jackman's intent

Jackman enjoyed two spells at Connacht, during which time the westerners were rebuilding from the ground up. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Jackman enjoyed two spells at Connacht, during which time the westerners were rebuilding from the ground up. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

From day one, Bernard Jackman understood the scale of the task that he was taking on at the Dragons but even still, there must be times when deep down he wonders if it is bigger than he had envisaged.

The squad he inherited wasn't exactly brimming with quality and the hope for the former Ireland hooker now is that since the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) have taken control of the club, they can attract better players.

Signing Ross Moriarty is a good start. It's a major signal of the Dragons' intent and speaks volumes about Jackman's long-term vision.

Moriarty will move to Newport next season after snubbing more lucrative offers to remain in the Premiership and Jackman will be hoping that this is just the beginning.

The Dragons and the Ospreys appear to be the front-runners to sign George North and if Jackman can also persuade the Lions winger to follow Moriarty, it would be the biggest signing the club has ever made.

Exposed

Last Friday night at the RDS, the Dragons' frailties were ruthlessly exposed by a youthful Leinster side who played the game as if they were from another planet.

It was another stark wake-up call about the amount of work that Jackman has on his hands and as well as that, it spoiled any sense of homecoming for him.

"We have a lot of youngsters who I suppose haven't had the exposure," Jackman maintains.

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"The big criticism I would have of the Dragons squad that I inherited was there were a load of young players in it but they never had any games.

"It's a massive rebuild. We're going to recruit 14 players next year. That's just the way it is. We just don't have good enough players.

"This is a unique year for the Dragons. We don't want to be giving them game-time next year when we have more short-term ambitions.

"When we lose four players, it has a bigger effect than Leinster losing 11. They're just so important to us. We had 30 players unavailable. 24 injured, four with Wales and two with Wales sevens.

"I've just got to get through this year. We're going to have s**t days in Ireland unfortunately."

Jackman enjoyed two spells at Connacht, during which time the westerners were rebuilding from the ground up.

The similarities with the Dragons project are clear, even if sobering evenings like last Friday are tough to stomach.

"I was in Connacht and part of that," the 41-year old continues.

"Just when you don't have confidence and inexperience and probably lack a bit of talent, when things go wrong, you can't just find a foothold into the game. But we're working on that.

"It happened when I was at Leinster in 2005/'06/'07. We had way more talent than the Dragons have but when it came to tight games, we bottled it.

"We're not making games tight enough but there are definitely mental cues we can do to make sure that we have composure.

"It's a complete rebuild. When the WRU bought us, they said, 'listen, go in and rebuild it but make sure that this year you give young Welsh kids opportunities and then we'll help try and entice some players back to Wales.'

"From that point of view, I'm excited to bring these kids through. It's (losing heavily) horrible but it's part of that process.

Intensity

"We've upped the intensity of training so they are much fitter than they were. But we still have this ability to have mental catastrophes and compound those. We go in front and then we have a couple of absolute brain farts.

"The systems in Wales are different than in Ireland. Take Jordan Larmour, his training age is twice what a Welsh kid's is.

"I know Wales can compete at U-20s level but if you took a Wales U-20 'B' team and played an Ireland U-20s 'B' team, the difference would be massive.

"We see these players every day. We know they are not as good as Leinster, Munster or Ulster but when we put a couple more back in next week and when we play at home and tighten up a little bit, we can do OK.

"If we came here with our best team against Leinster, we would struggle but we're all aware of that.

"You don't finish second last for the last three years if there is loads of talent there. We've got to recruit well and develop the players who we want to keep."

Despite the tough times, Jackman remains positive about the Dragons' future and believes that they can become a force with the right structures in place.

"I want to be head coach of a top-six team in any of the elite leagues in Europe who can play Champions Cup," the Carlow native adds.

"If I can get the Dragons to be a Champions Cup side, I think that would be a massive marker on my CV. It's just a process we've got to get through and we will fast-track it all. By next year we will be competitive and hopefully the year after we're really good."

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