Apr 7, 09:02 AM

Interview with Darren Edwards

Filed under:Dragons by

OK, there’s no rugby this weekend, apart from something called the heineken cup, which sounds a little inferior to us, but Darren Edwards gave us an hour of his time to answer some questions, which hopefully will help fill the gap. Like us, i’m sure you’ll all be impressed by the enthusiasm and excitement he’s showing for the drags.

The argus reported a week ago that you were close to signing a contract for next season; can you give us any details?
I think that’s the Argus speculating. Discussions are ongoing, I can’t really say any more than that. Although as I have said previously I would like to stay with the Dragons.

You spent most of your career in the Guinness Premiership – how does that compare with the Magners, from a players point of view?
It’s a different competition, due to promotion and relegation. It’s dominated by structured defences and set pieces, and is more about big powerful forwards; a war of attrition. In the Magners we tend to get more rugby played, and teams are less afraid to try things.

Assuming you are head coach, what will we be aiming for next season? Are we going to target the league, or go all out in the Amlin? Or both?
First things first, we’ve got to define our style of play. We’ve tried in the past to copy others too much. We know what players we’ve got, and we need to develop a game that suits them. The Magners is our major competition, and that defines which other competition we play in, so that has to be our main concern, but we’ll take each game as it comes and hopefully get to a stage in the season where there is a choice to make. We need to establish our identity and make other teams think about us, and get the fans behind what we’re doing. Rodney parade could be a really special place if we can do that.

Is our first team squad big enough?
We have a large enough squad but the difference with us, and the top teams is that the large majority of our squad is made up of players who are still developing. We do not have the budget to buy in ‘ready’ made players. We have taken the view here that we have to invest in the talent we have available and grow the squad together. This means having the conviction to expose our young players to competitive rugby and us as coaches making sure we service the players with quality technical and physical support. It is apparent that there is real talent within the squad. If these players continue to progress as well as they are at present, the Dragons will become a formidable team as these players mature together.

We seem to kick an awful lot – is this by design, or is it just a natural reaction from the players?
I’m not a fan of the kicking, it’s a part of the game we are working on. We have got ourselves into trouble with poor execution and decisions but hopefully you have seen recently that I’m encouraging more attacking play from deep in our half.

Our main weakness is the scrum. What are we doing to sort this out?
There’s already a marked difference from last year, and Danny Wilson is doing a great job in improving this area. We’re still not dominating, but we are now able to play ourselves away from the scrum. It takes time to develop an extremely technical area like the scrum. Danny didn’t join until the season had started when he introduced a new method of scrimmaging that will suit our players. We will have a ten week preseason coming up to make adjustments. I’m confident we will see further improvements next season.

Last season Jason Tovey was an excellent kicker – an unbroken run of twenty odd successful shots at goal. How do you explain his current poor form? Do we have a kicking coach for him, and is it Neil Jenkins? What are we doing to help him recover his magic?
Jason had a success rate of 92% last season, the best in the northern hemisphere, but he tends to be a chip kicker, with no great distance. He’s been trying to change his style to develop that distance and it’s like golf or tennis, when you make a fundamental change, you have to break things all the way down. He’s still striking the ball well, but he’s lacking accuracy. It’s not ideal that he’s doing this during the season, as there is so much pressure on during games, but he had a limited pre season due to injury. So making changes in the season is tough on him as he has to do this under the pressure of competitive rugby, but it is something that will certainly come back. We still have to remember he has only just turned 21. It’s just the place kicking, though; the rest of his game is still very good.
The union have offered us help, and we can use Neil Jenkins if we want, but Jason is happy working with Shaun Connor, who is a very good kicking coach. These things take time, and during preseason Shaun will be aiming to get things sorted out.

Who do you think will be captain next season?
Luke makes an excellent captain, he leads by example, and the other players all listen to him. It’s hard work leading from the second row, though, because a player is always in the thick of it, so he would need leaders around him to help manage games.

Aled Brew. We all love him, but what are you going to do?
I wouldn’t want any other winger than Aled. He fits in with what we want to do and his scoring record speaks for itself. He just needs to learn to score tries first, and then celebrate. I was getting edgy at the Treviso game.

Centre, fullback, back five and perhaps a prop, says Bob Beale. Are we looking at anyone at the moment? The grapevine says Tuitopou from Munster or Seveali’i from London Irish.
We are looking for a player who can cover second row and back row, as Luke and Danny Lydiate are likely to be going to the world cup. We’re looking for a centre of the standard of Tuitopou and Seveali’i, yes. We’ve got young backs, guys with talent, and we need someone on the field with experience who can help them develop. Players like Hughes, Smith, Brew, Harries, Leach, Riley and Tovey are going to be around for a long time so we need someone to work alongside them and help them develop further, possibly from a different rugby culture.
We’re getting contacted by a lot of players, from within Wales and outside, who would like to join us. They can see what we’re trying to develop and want to be part of it. The biggest thing for us as a team is to strive for consistency and intensity in our play. The players we are looking to recruit can then see the potential the Dragons have as a team to compete against whoever they are playing.

What is Joe Bedford going to bring us?
I’ve worked with Joe in the past, and he’s captained Leeds. He’s had over 100 games in the Guinness Premiership, and will bring a different flavour to our game. We’ve got a 19 year old number 8, a 20 year old outside half, and we are not looking after Wayne. Joe will bring experience and control. He’s a northerner, a leader, and will drive the consistency that we currently lack. He will also push Wayne. We’ve seen previously when Danny Lee arrived how well Wayne responds to pressure. We’ve also got the current Wales u20 and u18 scrum halves in the academy, and Joe will help develop their game. Joe will also have an impact on the training pitch where his work ethic and uncompromising standards will drive standards up of those around him. We only develop as a team if we transfer what we do on the training ground to match days.

Joe bearman – fans favourite, but a big loss to the region? Did we try to keep him?
Joe is 32 and has played hardly any games over the last two seasons. We offered him a contract, but unfortunately he has accepted one from the Ospreys. He has a family to think about and sometimes these decisions are made purely for financial reasons and nobody can blame him for that. He’ll be a loss to the club, but with Toby coming through and Ieuan Davies in the u18s we’re confident that we have future internationals coming through in his position.

If you could have anyone, who would you go after?
I would rather spend the money on retaining some of our existing players. I believe that if we manage to retain our young players on long term contracts then when they mature as players and gain experience we will have a formidable team. It’s the team that will be bring us success not just having the most expensive individuals as we’ve seen at another region!

What do we need in terms of staff and facilities to develop players?
People want us to spend on a “marquee” player, but I would rather spend on infrastructure and getting in coaches to work with the clubs in the region to identify the talent; we’ve got to have succession planning. Previously we have been very reactive, hoping things will happen. We must start making things happen. We’ve brought in overseas players in the past just because they’ve been from overseas, I think that any non-Welsh qualified players we sign in the future must bring massive value to the team.
I’m really proud of the players, and I am confident that the Dragons are moving into a new era. We’re having no trouble renegotiating contracts with the players we want to keep. We’re building a new style of play that can challenge the best teams. It is an exciting place to work, the players are working hard and are showing signs of real ambition. We have a young coaching group here that has the energy and the desire to be successful. We have a plan and a goal that we will work relentlessly to achieve. The focus is on not hoping things happen but rather on making things happen!

Are there any other players from the Wales u20 squad that we could bring in and give some ML exposure to? Would they strengthen our current squad?
I’d like to keep my job with the under 20s, thanks.

Are our gym and training facilities a real issue? Will the new gym be ready for next season – how do you see it improving our players? Will the outdoor training field be ready also?
They are an issue, the present facilities are not good enough. We are not after the facilities like the Vale, just a good working gym. Things are starting to take shape, now, so that’s thanks to the board, who are being very supportive. Martyn Hazell is being very brave by putting so much into the redevelopment.
The bowling green contract ends in October so over the next couple of months we will be making plans on how we are going to develop facilities further. There is no doubt that the Dragons are looking to improve the facilities to the standard required to support a professional rugby team.

It seems that this season all the dragons players have ended up with Newport. Is this likely to continue in the future?
This is an issue that we are currently looking at. I will have to update you at a later date.

If the board could give you anything you want, what 1 single thing would make the biggest difference to the region?
I’d like more coaches for the Dragons and the region, and in particular skills coaches. All players have to start somewhere, even the world class ones!! I think it is important that we find these players early and invest quality time and resources in them so that the region has a better chance of sustaining a competitive team. This will be more cost effective to the business and it will be great for the supporters to be proud that this region produces its own players. Once we can achieve this it will then be the right time to bring in World class players to continue to quality control the environment and drive performance standards further.

What more can we as supporters do to help the team?
You need to show patience. The atmosphere is great, and when the stadium is closed in it’s going to be intense, but you need to understand we’re entering a new era, with a sustainable team. In a couple of years players like Danny and Toby are going to be fantastic, and our team will be really going places. It’s a great place to be, and the future is really exciting. We’re taking control now, and we’ll make things happen.
Your support (and noise!) during games is invaluable and is appreciated by all the players and Coaches. Keep coming to the games and continue being vocal!

Cheers Darren, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.