November 3rd saw Dragons come to the Sportsground to face Connacht Rugby, it was a chance to run the rule over the Dragons and see what improvement if any had taken place in the Welsh region outfit. The fixture was a miserable experience for the Dragons; blotched try scoring opportunities and a porous defense seeing a 33-12 loss.
Bernard Jackman comments post-game were that the side and players were improving but the manner of the performance, the despondency of the players on duty with each score conceded suggested that the Dragons board would need to evaluate the head coach sooner than the end of the season. The news today that both parties have parted ways is disappointing but probably a necessary move for both to reassess and move on.
The announcement of Bernard Jackman as Dragons head coach in 2017 was seen as a surprise announcement by many Rodney Parade fans but respected rugby pundits pointed to his coaching tenure with Grenoble which eventually led to the head coaching role in the summer of 2016.
However, Bernard Jackman experienced a turbulent and challenging season as head coach; a huge injury backlog and lack of funds to bolster an already stretched squad saw the Tullow man depart the club in March 2017. The club was relegated from Top 14; there would be no momentum shift to the season.
The Dragons head coaching role was seen as a perfect opportunity for Jackman to relaunch his career and to put his stamp on the club, a club which had struggled in past seasons, a club who were looking for a new start and new beginnings, a club which looked to Jackman to develop a young squad with the promise of funds and key personnel player signings to bolster the squad.
The opening season as Dragons head coach was always going to be difficult. The side struggled for cohesion and consistency last season, shipping 94 tries and scoring only 43 tries which was the lowest in the league. Only seven wins in thirty-one games last season but the signings of Richard Hibbard and Ross Moriarty in the pack was embers of optimism to drive the side on from a performance and results perspective this season.
Unfortunately, Dragons have languished even further this season. The team on paper looks to have genuine talent with Eliot Dee, Richard Hibbard, Cory Hill, Ollie Griffiths, Ross Moriarty, Tavis Knoyle, Gavin Henson, James Tovey, Hallam Amos, Jordan Williams and Zane Kirchner.
No excuses on the performance levels which defensively have fallen well short of the standard required. Their home loss to Leinster Rugby a couple of weeks ago against a side admittedly consisting of Leinster academy and fringe players was a hammer blow for Jackman.
Even more so has being the statistics generated so far this season. Lowest try scorers (18) and highest tries against for the team (44) this season; no indication of an upturn in fortunes. The board pulled the trigger.
Dragons board must have looked at the progress of the Italian sides such as Benetton Rugby and Zebre Rugby who have improved notably in recent seasons; the side have not gone in that upward curve and after a loss to Northampton Saints last weekend which spelled the end of their European Challenge Cup interest (realistically) this season, they have pulled the plug on Jackman.
It will be interesting to hear from Jackman in the coming weeks on his departure from the Dragons. Both will look to rebound but for both, it looks like a long road ahead to redemption. Jackman is undoubtedly a good coach but the head coach role stints have being a mixed bag, cannot see a club or national side immediately offering a head coaching role anytime soon. The Tullow native will get back on the coaching ticket of a team (club / national) in due course but now is the time for reflection.
Dragons unless they have someone already on their radar will now look to recruit a successor for Jackman which will be tough right now considering that coaches working in other clubs will not be released until the end of the current season (if lucky). It may be the case of looking to the backroom staff still at the club to steer the side through the rest of the season. Club in limbo which is far from ideal.
Do the club go for an experienced head coach and are prepared to commit to their vision of the club long term (3-5 years), something they failed to do with Bernard Jackman? If so, then the likes of Mike Ruddock, Andy Robinson, Jim Mallinder come into the foreground. All have quality coaching credentials from a club perspective.
If the club are looking for a good coach who has the potential for head coaching success, then Felix Jones (Munster) may fit the bill. Jones is well regarded in Munster and Irish rugby circles and but whether the Dragons go for another Irish appointment is unlikely. Jason Strange who is the attacking coach for Cardiff Blues may be an outside bet; good success at Welsh club level.
Regardless of the appointment, there is no short term fix for the Dragons. The club are in a rut even after their lavish name change last season. The culture of losing is as prevalent as ever at the club. It will require shrewd player recruitment to establish additional squad depth in multiple pack and back line positions. Jackman may have gone but the Dragons needs to be examined top to bottom as everyone needs to be held accountable for the disastrous run of results not just this season but for the past decade.