The Welsh region surprised almost everyone with their European win at Gloucester, but they hope to make such days commonplace by becoming an independent region
How ironic that, at a time of the season when many players are feeling the bumps and bruises acutely, Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones should name an unchanged line-up for this Sunday’s Guinness Pro12 derby at Cardiff Blues. It’s something the Welsh region has seldom been able to do during the past two injury-plagued years.
Last weekend’s Challenge Cup win at Gloucester doubtless served as excellent medicine, the ability to boss the breakdown – a strength of theirs all season – and a gutsy decision to opt for a maul instead of three easy points near the end bringing the Dragons one of the finest triumphs in their 13-year history.
It was also particularly timely because last week the Dragons announced plans to become a fully independent region, being currently joint-owned by Newport RFC and the WRU.
This is easier said than done because first and foremost it requires one or more investors digging deep into their pocket for reasons of love, not money. But such has been the way for swathes of benefactors in professional sport.
“We’re being very honest about what we’re looking for. If someone is looking for a (financial) return they’re better off investing in property or the stock market,” says Dragons chief executive Stuart Davies.
“We’re looking for individuals of high wealth who have a passion for rugby and sport in Wales, and who want to be at the top table and helping to shape the game in Wales. For anyone happy to come on board it promises to be a wonderful roller-coaster ride.”
Under the plans, any new investment would be injected straight into the business and playing side because the balance sheet would be bolstered through capitalisation of loans and writing off of historical debts. Turnover for Newport RFC (all parts of business) for the year ending May 2015 was £7.8m and includes union and competition funding, commercial income and ground rent from Newport County.
You only have to look down the road at disbanded region Celtic Warriors to see how new beginnings can quickly end in tears, but Davies says all the necessary safeguards would be put in place, with contracts not stretching beyond any new backer’s investment period.
“We’re very mindful of that scenario and don’t want to be left holding the baby. The existing board members are the gate-keeper and they need to be satisfied that the reins would be in safe hands. That is very important to the board, some of whom have made a huge personal contribution to the region. Legacy is an important respect.”
The decision to strike out alone has been 12 months in the planning, and realistically it will take the same amount of time again before any deal with a new owner(s) is signed and sealed. But the work to date has “planted some seeds” and the fact that the Dragons can now overtly pursue discussions with interested parties marks a significant moment.
Only in the very early days of the Dragons, when the likes of Percy Montgomery, Rod Snow and Andy Marinos were on the scene, has the region really made a strong competitive impact. And although the decision to restructure precedes the Taulupe Faletau dispute that ended with him signing for Bath next season, the loss of their only world-class player highlights the difficulties the Dragons have in mounting a credible challenge both domestically and in Europe.
“The Faletau saga wasn’t the initial driver for this move, restructuring was underway before that came to a head,” says Davies, a former Wales No 8. “But it’s so difficult to compete within the Pro12, let alone against English and French clubs who benefit from bigger TV deals. Something was necessary to break the cycle and make us more competitive.”
That said, you have to wonder how different things might have been. They have a record ten losing bonus points and had just half of their narrow defeats gone the other way then Sunday’s game with the Blues would have much more riding on it than local bragging rights.
“It’s been a tough season but one of promise. Winning at Gloucester was hugely rewarding, a real shot in the arm. Days like that remind you of why you got involved in rugby.
“We have a great group of youngsters who are growing together. The age-group talent in Gwent is fantastic. Some of the guys have already had senior recognition, like Hallam Amos or Tyler Morgan, and I’d put money on the fact that players like Elliot Dee, Jack Dixon and Ollie Griffiths will play for Wales.
“We just need a sprinkling of stardust on top and new investment will allow us to do that.”
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