The Dragons did not win many points in the regional derbies and their coach, it seems, did not win many admirers within rugby punditry circles for criticising his own players. Robin Davey, though, argues that years of under-achievement means the Dragons coach should be allowed to do it his way.
Never a week goes by in Welsh rugby . . . only this time an Irishman has entered the fray and thrown the proverbial spanner into the works.
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman, imported from across the Irish Sea via Grenoble in south-east France to revive the flagging region, has stirred the pot – big time.
His ‘crime,’ which is how it’s viewed in some quarters, is to subject some of his players to a succession of rollickings in the full glare of publicity,rather than in private.
Never mind that some of these very same critics now castigating Jackman for his blunt assessment were being equally blunt about the very same players for so long. The logic appears to be that pundits can be honest about players, but not their own coach.
Two specific examples have arisen, one from early in the season and another much more recently.
In the case of the former, the Dragons released a video of a particular player – winger Pat Howard – receiving a real dressing down from Jackman at an inquest in a room at their training base at Ystrad Mynach.
Howard was told in pretty graphic detail by Jackman that if he wanted to jog out on the rugby pitch he could go down to the beach at Penarth and left in no doubt it certainly wasn’t acceptable in his new look Dragons.
Then, after the Dragons slumped to a 47-13 hammering against the Scarlets last Friday, Jackman again chose to publicly chastise his players.
He didn’t name any this time, but concluded that some of the more established players weren’t pulling their weight and basically were not up to the job.
Furthermore, he said that a number would not be with the Dragons next season and instead would be heading for the door marked exit. While none were named, a few probably know who they are.
What has caused an outcry among pundits and fans alike is the fact that Jackman chose to declare all of this in public rather than behind closed doors.
Many on social media are outraged while experienced rugby people like Jonathan Davies and Martyn Williams via the Scrum V TV studio have questioned Jackman’s wisdom.
Better to carry out such verbals in the dressing room or back at the training base, goes their argument, while they question whether telling players they will not be required next season will de-motivate them when Jackman may have to rely on them for the rest of this season.
What of the man at the centre of the storm himself? I had a good chat with him at the Dragons’ training base on Monday and he is, frankly, unconcerned. It’s not exactly his way or the highway, but something along those lines.
For a start, he has had to battle with a crippling injury list for almost the entire season, as many as 25 players at a time out of action. The situation hasn’t eased as the bulletin released by the Dragons medical team this week has illustrated.
Against that background, Jackman’s hand has been forced. He has inherited a small, under-performing squad and in view of that injury list he’s had to throw a number of teenagers into the fray.
As many as seven have made their regional debut while it’s pretty clear quite a few of their more established players are not really up to the task.
Jackman himself knows the players he will be releasing and they will probably be told around the end of this month.
But no doubt there will still be a chance of changing the coach’s mind if they produce something special between now and the end of the season.
Many of them – and there could be as many as 15 released – have not and probably won’t attract interest from anywhere else, so they have little choice but to try to secure a reprieve.
As it is, Jackman can feel really pleased on two fronts despite the massive injury toll – namely, the list of players he has recruited already for next season and the number he has persuaded to re-sign.
In the past the Dragons have not been able to hold on to their better players, who have opted to head for greener pastures. They haven’t attracted quality new recruits either.
As Jackman has achieved both in such a relatively short time it speaks volumes for his capabilities, for his vision and for his powers of persuasion.
In addition, he has engaged with every corner of the region via meetings, get-togethers and even social media. So he has every right to stick his fingers up to his critics, so to speak.
On the recruitment front, the Dragons will be strengthened by high profile signings like Ross Moriarty and Richard Hibbard while there is every possibility George North will add his name to that growing band.
Also linking up with the Dragons are Rhodri Williams, Jordan Williams, Rhodri Davies, Jarryd Sage, Calvin Wellington and only this week Welsh-qualified back rower Huw Taylor, a member of England’s Under-20 World Cup winning team.
Another recruit is due to be announced at the end of this week, while there will be a few more on top of that joining up to the Rodney Parade revolution.
In addition impressive youngsters like Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Ollie Griffiths, Harri Keddie and Jack Dixon have all signed new deals while other discoveries like Dan Babos and Aaron Wainwright clearly have long-term futures with the Dragons.
Yet, someone of the calibre of Martyn Williams chooses to claim that it’s not a happy camp at the Dragons. How would he know?
That was far from the case when I visited Ystrad Mynach on Monday when the fit players trained well without complaint and there was plenty of banter among the crocked as they went through their supervised rehabilitation.
It’s all very alarmist. Dragons results may not be the best, but there are mitigating circumstances like that huge injury list.
Given the quality of the recruitment and the fact that all their young players have re-signed it means there is every faith in what Jackman is doing.
So if he chooses to chastise players in public that’s his choice. He’s less than one year into a three-year project, he is doing things his way and the Dragons hierarchy have every confidence in him.
So let him get on with the job and judge him after three years, not six months.