Big Noise: Bernard Jackman hopes to give Dragons fans something to shout about. Pic: Getty Images.
Things are changing at Rodney Parade. A new ownership era, a new pitch, and a new head coach. Robin Davey says a fresh voice will bring new hope, but face familiar problems.
While all the rugby interest this summer is on the Lions in New Zealand, plus a bit on overseas tours by the home countries, there has been one significant announcement on the domestic front in Wales.
In fact it was so surprising that even to loyal fans it came as something of a bolt from the blue – Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones is leaving and into his place comes, not another Welshman, but an Irish ‘interloper.’
For at the helm for the Dragons from next Monday will be Bernard Jackman, the former Ireland, Connacht and Leinster hooker who had been coach of French side Grenoble until March.
And that will not be the only change on the Dragons front as the July 1 date for the Welsh Rugby Union to take operational control at Rodney Parade draws ever nearer.
Jackman will be a fresh new voice in charge of the Dragons, bringing to an end the four-year reign of Gwent man Jones.
He, like previous coaches including fellow Gwent man Paul Turner, had struggled with a thankless task, managing on a budget comfortably the lowest in the Pro 12 and forever having to focus on the short term.
But last month came a dramatic turnaround when the Newport RFC shareholders voted in favour – many reluctantly – of a WRU takeover which is designed to initially stabilise the Dragons, then, hopefully, help them flourish.
Along the way we can expect a new hybrid pitch – currently being grown on pallets away from the ground – to be installed, drastic and needed ground improvements to be carried out and, not least, a new board with a new chairman to be installed.
Jackman will have a similar budget to grapple with as Jones, for while the Dragons will now spend their full £3.5m budget, it has to be remembered that under the terms of their contracts a number of players will receive bonuses and pay rises.
But Jackman is the down-to-earth type who could well get the best out of the Dragons squad while hopefully there will be considerable improvements to the group.
Given the budget that may well have to come via investors, and WRU chairman Martyn Phillips has said they are talking to one potential backer.
Almost as eagerly awaited is the make-up of the new board – all current members will resign at the end of the month – with particular interest surrounding the appointment of the new chairman.
Jones, meanwhile, heads off to a new appointment as WRU performance exiles manager based at the Vale of Glamorgan, as the title suggests having special responsibility for unearthing and helping develop further Welsh players who are playing outside the country.
He will be aided in a part-time capacity by Turner, who also coaches Ampthill, so the Gwent pair are not lost to Welsh rugby.
Jackman, however, is a complete newcomer and he has been recommended by Wales and Lions coach Warren Gatland, so Dragons fans will witness a new broom – with plenty more changes to follow.
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