Matthew Screech of the Dragons awaits the decision of the TMO. Pic: Craig Thomas/Replay Images.

The Dragons’ New Head Coach . . . Which Of These Can Finally Ignite The Fire?

The Dragons’ Judgement Day victory over the Scarlets was their first win away from Rodney Parade for four years. Heady days. Now, all they need do is find a permanent coach and the scars suffered as long-term whipping boys may finally start to heal. Jamie Phillips looks at the candidates and considers their strengths and weaknesses.

The Dragons have been looking for a new head coach since Bernard Jackman was sacked on the 11th of December 2018.

They are due to announce the new man this week and after their shock win against the Scarlets there can be some justifiable optimism that things might finally start to improve next season.

It has been reported that there is a four-man shortlist which comprises of current Dragons forwards coach Ceri Jones – who has been doing the job on a caretaker basis and wants a crack at the long-term – Wales’ attack coach Rob Howley, former England and current Georgia forwards coach Graham Rowntree and ex-Gloucester head man and former Worcester director of rugby Dean Ryan.

They all have their plus points, but some would arrive with enough baggage to weigh the scales back in the opposite direction.

Ceri Jones

Pros: The 41-year-old from Usk is very passionate about his home region. He also knows Gwent rugby inside and out, having played for Newport and coached at Ebbw Vale and now the Dragons.

Jones is highly respected and liked by the Dragons players and staff. Wales hooker Elliot Dee has said: “Everyone’s got a lot of respect for Ceri. He’s galvanised us. It was a tough job to get chucked into and I think he’s done well, personally.”

Jones now also has some credit in the bank after breaking the four-year Welsh derby drought by beating the Ospreys at Rodney Parade and then stunning the Scarlets for the Dragons’ first victory at Judgement Day in the Principality Stadium at the weekend.

Dragons caretaker coach Ceri Jones. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

Cons: Although very passionate and determined, Jones lacks the experience and pedigree of the other candidates on the shortlist. Could this go against him?

Also, while Jones is popular with supporters his appointment as permanent head coach would be seen by some fans as a cheap option and lacking ambition. Especially after chairman David Buttress said he was looking for a “world class coach.”

Rob Howley

Pros: Hugely experienced coach who’s had Six Nations success, including Grand Slam triumphs alongside Warren Gatland with Wales. It’s also sometimes forgotten that with Gatland on Lions duty, Howley had been in charge the entire season in 2013 when Wales recovered from an opening Six Nations defeat to win the tournament after that famous 30-3 demolition of England. He has also been backs coach with the British & Irish Lions on their last three tours. That’s a very impressive CV.

The former Wales captain also knows the Dragons players well, having worked with the likes of Dee, Cory Hill, Aaron Wainwright, Leon Brown, Ross Moriarty, Tyler Morgan etc. in the Wales camp.

Howley appears close to Shaun Edwards, too, and might be able to rope him into the Dragons camp for some consultancy work, should Edwards decide to stay in Wales.

Rob Howley. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

Cons: Howley is still mocked and derided by some Welsh rugby fans for his often less than dynamic media performances when compared to Gatland. His appointment would certainly polarise the Dragons fan base. He would also have to win over those who never credit him for any part in Wales’ success over the years.

The Rugby Paper claimed Howley is “uninterested” in the job. It could yet be that he will leave the goldfish bowl of Wales and start afresh in England or continue to work in International rugby elsewhere.

Graham Rowntree

Pros: Has plenty of coaching experience with the likes of Leicester, Harlequins and England. Rowntree has also been involved in three consecutive British and Irish Lions tours in 2009, 2013 and 2017.

A grizzled prop in his playing days, he has a touch of the Richard Cockerill abrasiveness about him and could provide the shake-up that the Dragons badly need.

One of the Dragons’ weaknesses has been their basics up front and Rowntree’s experience and knowledge suggests he should be able to get much more out of the forward pack, if nothing else.

Cons: Although Rowntree has bags of experience, he has never been a head coach so this appointment would be a bit of a gamble by the Dragons hierarchy.

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It’s also been claimed that one of the reservations Rowntree has regarding the role is the meagre playing budget. If that’s the case then the Dragons job isn’t for him.

It’s no secret that money is tight at Rodney Parade. The playing budget is just £4.5million – the lowest among the Welsh regions. It’s a case of making the most of what you have at your disposal and if that’s a problem for Rowntree then the Dragons and the former Tigers’ favourite probably need to look elsewhere.

Dean Ryan

Pros: Another candidate who ticks the experience box as Ryan has had roles at Bristol, Gloucester and Worcester Warriors, as well as a season as Scotland assistant coach. He has also been a Sky Sports TV analyst and columnist in The Guardian newspaper. Is currently head of international player development at the RFU.

Ryan is no stranger to Rodney Parade having been appointed as a coaching consultant back in December 2012. He should have a sound knowledge of the Dragons and the set-up.

He also knows Ceri Jones well, having already worked with him before at Worcester when Jones was scrum coach with the academy. Jones gave praise to Ryan when leaving Worcester for “all of the time and effort he has put into my development as a coach.”

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Cons: Would be seen as an underwhelming appointment by some supporters who say things didn’t really improve at the Dragons when Ryan was advising them.

Although Ryan is very experienced in the rugby world, he hasn’t had any major success as a head coach.

He failed to deliver trophies at Gloucester and left the club by mutual consent after poor results. He then joined Worcester and guided them to promotion from the Championship in 2015.

But he left his role as director of rugby two months before the Premiership season started after he was apparently unhappy with finances made available for the Warriors’ playing budget. If he wasn’t happy with the budget at Worcester, would he be satisfied with the Dragons’ pot?

These are the candidates mentioned in plenty of reports, but there are other choices available to Buttress and the board.

Could there even be a surprise in store? Mike Ruddock was the first Dragons coach, won a Grand Slam with Wales, is still winning trophies and developing players in Irish rugby. Could he have been tempted to return home?

Whoever the takes the job is in for a huge challenge, however. There is plenty of talent in Gwent but no-one has yet been able to deliver success in any lasting sense. The new man will have history against him.

The current times in Welsh regional rugby appear volatile. This is one appointment Buttress simply can’t afford to get wrong.

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