Dean Ryan is stepping back in time to try to re-build the Dragons into a major force in Welsh rugby.
The former Worcester Warriors and Gloucester head coach has quit his job at the RFU, where he has been head of international player development since 2016, to try to breathe new life into the Gwent side as their new director or rugby.
“I don’t think I’m turning my back on the RFU. It is about finding something I am excited about and gives me back the ability to go and compete with people again in a sporting environment,” said the four times capped former England No 8.
“This is something I’ve done all my life and I’ve missed it. I missed getting off a bus, I missed standing with 35 people getting ready to go.
“What I didn’t miss was somebody having an opinion that I didn’t think was valid or relevant to supporting the team. I haven’t come here just to do a head coaching job.
“I’ve had those in the past and I’ve become incredibly frustrated with those people who sit on boards and take decisions when they don’t understand rugby. I was very clear when I left Worcester that I was incredibly frustrated about the board and that I didn’t have confidence in them.
“People saw that as a criticism, but we get sacked pretty quickly in this job. This has given me the chance to have a level of influence in some different environments and still get excited about competing.”
Ryan will now straddle the boardroom and the playing field as he seeks to help Dragons chairman David Buttress pull the worst funded of the four Welsh regions out of the depths of the PRO14. Buttress dismissed head coach Bernard Jackman midway through last season and his side finished the season one off the bottom of their Conference table.
“My challenge here is a pretty significant one and I’m at a stage of my career where that excites me more than anything else,” said Ryan.
“If someone had said six months ago I would come back into club rugby I would probably have been pretty sceptical about it. But I started talking to David and between the two of us we just asked why do we do things like this and why can’t we look at it slightly differently.
“That is when I started get excited again. When you look at something like the Dragons and the challenge, you know immediately that it is just not about having a different line-out or a different backs move, it’s about a number of different things that need aligning at the same time.
“To look at this as just a rugby challenge, I think is the wrong approach. To look at it as how can you build something that in four or five years has the building blocks that allow it to go on and be successful.
“That’s when it became a different challenge and started to get me excited about what it could look like. I know it is complex and it isn’t something that has an easy answer.
“Anyone from the outside would know there are a number of challenges facing the Dragons, and I think everyone needs to be prepared to get their sleeves rolled up and take on those challenges, rather than just pushing everything onto the group that represents them on the field.
“I don’t mind a challenge, I don’t mind fighting for something which might be very difficult. I don’t think this is a quick fix or a sharp turnaround.”
Whether or not he gets the time he needs to achieve his goals only the chairman can say. Things can hardly get much worse at Rodney Parade, so Ryan is likely to experience a considerable ‘bounce’ next season, especially as his side won’t be missing too many players at the World Cup.
At least he brings with him a wealth of experience and as much as he will be able to guide the playing side alongside his coaching team, he should also be a considerable asset in the boardroom. That’s where Buttress needs some strong allies as he tries to re-shape the business model at the Dragons.
He is currently trying to bring in new investors to help the Dragons buy out the Welsh Rugby Union to create a stand-along region. If talks go well, then the deal could be struck over the next few months, allowing the Dragons to utilise the Rodney Parade footprint to boost their business.
As the lowest funded region in Wales they need to raise more funds than any of their rivals to try to climb out of the nether regions of the Guinness PRO14. Buttress will be responsible for the business, while Ryan’s goal will be to ignite a spark among the 70+ clubs in Gwent to try to uncover more natural talent.
The Dragons won the Regional Age Grade Under 18 title last season and players like Lennon Greggains, Taine Basham, Max Williams, Dan Babos, Will Griffiths, Deon Smith and Jared Rosser are all in the production pipe-line behind rising stars such as Aaron Wainwright, Leon Brown, Elliot Dee and Tyler Morgan.
Ryan will at least have something to work with, but patience will wear thin, just as Jackman found, if results don’t improve.