Nov 23, 01:48 PM

Darren answers our questions

Filed under:Dragons by

Dragged Up Questions

Does Darren appreciate the cusp we are sat on at the moment? We could go from being a poor relation to having the best team in Wales and challengers for silverware which could see the entire region get behind us and get RP sold out every week?

When I first took over the job in January my primary objective was to change the perception of how we were viewed as a region within Wales and the wider rugby public. My strategy in doing this was to develop a style of play that was engaging to the players, the Dragons fans and the Welsh public. The first hurdles to overcome here was to win games against other welsh regions. I told my players if they want to change the perception of us as a team and a region we have to be better individually and as a collective unit than our Welsh counterparts. Completing the double over the Ospreys and beating the Blues were significant victories as the players demonstrated the intent we have as a team to establish a winning style of play and the ambitions they have as individuals.

These ambitions have been realized recently with a record 5 of our players going to the World Cup. This has proven the fact that you can play for Wales if you play for the Dragons. We have worked extremely hard on creating an environment where players establish a professional work ethic and receive quality individual coaching. I believe it is important that the Dragons are able to provide the environment in which players can achieve their rugby ambitions. I have a great coaching team with me who are extremely driven in establishing the Dragons as a force within Wales and the competitions we play in. There is no way we will be a development team within Wales!

I believe we are taking the region into a new era and are certainly on the cusp of something special. Rodney Parade is a great place to play rugby and the support of our fans mean everything to us. My Players, Coaches and I believe that we represent the region as a whole and have a duty to make the people of the region proud of our achievements and share the journey with us. Being recognized as the regions professional rugby team and a sold out Rodney Parade would be fantastic. A united region that is proud of their rugby team would be unique and would certainly be the envy of others!

What are the main aims for the season and do you hope to recruit more or will the focus be to keep core players e.g. Burns Luke brew Toby and Dan
Are we looking to keep most of our players on long contracts rather than recruiting bigger names. We all heard the pre season talk on bringing in a big centre but it never materialised. Can you confirm if Tuilagi was that centre?

To take us over the cusp and establish consistency in performances the strength of my squad needs attention. My priority here is to establish a competitive squad and not just a competitive team. I believe we are in a transition season as we are developing and exposing many of our young players to a competitive environment to enable us to continue to improve the quality of our squad. Key objectives this season is to retain our current assets, which Robert Beale is working extremely hard to do and to improve the coaching infrastructure around the players. It is important that we contract our International players on long-term contracts, as they will provide the building blocks for the development of the wider squad. I believe you look first within to establish a core of players. That includes looking within our region then at the youngsters we have in our pathway. My recruitment drive will then become more measured in that new players from outside of our region will be quality players that add value to the team and the environment. A recent example of this is Tonderai Chavhanga. This player was not on the open market so I had to be very creative in my recruitment strategy. I was looking for a pure strike-running wing (I think I certainly found that!) I looked World Wide for a player of this calibre, and finally decided on Tonderai. I had my analysts gather as much footage as possible; I also spoke to a number of coaches in South Africa to make sure he was the right fit for us. I then had to approach the player and ask him to commit to the Dragons. Robert then had to negotiate a release from his current contract at the Lions. As you can see it is not a simple process when you recruit quality players.

The squad will have to be developed over a period of time due to the nature of the sport where players can be held under contract. We have already started working on recruitment targets for next season. You have seen us make some brave selections in games to make sure we expose our young players so that we can be pro-active in how we can plan their development programs. I have a strategy that I have put in place for the 3 seasons of my contract. Part of that strategy is to go on the offensive and be aggressive in recruitment of quality established players. We need to be ambitious and committed to achieve success. From a personal perspective when I leave the Dragons I want to leave a talented and consistent squad that is competitive in all competitions.

Why has Darren stated that he’s inherited a squad after releasing 17 players in the summer & having a close season where he signed his players?

When I talk about inherited players, I mean that the make-up of the squad is not what I and the coaches would like. In terms of changing this it is not quite so simple. Firstly there are contracts in place to honour, as previous coaches recruited the players. This is where most of our budget is tied up. The first step in developing the squad was during last summer when 17 were released. The next step now is to extend the contracts of those we want to keep and then hopefully in January begin the recruitment for next season when we will have a budget for recruitment. With regards to the makeup of the squad it is important to point out that we are trying to change a culture here. The attitude has been to focus on what we have not got rather than what we can achieve! Changing a culture takes time and the players know if they don’t add value to what we want to achieve they will be moved on.

Is our first team squad big enough to compete in the pro 12?

No, our current squad is not big enough or rather not competitive in certain positions to compete consistently in the Pro 12. The size and strength of our squad is a priority for a number of reasons. Firstly having depth in each position creates competitive players that drive individual performances. But more importantly, we have a number of young players that need to be taken out of games so that we can physically condition and technically improve them. This is also the case for our older players where we can take preventative measures to ensure that we manage their injuries and improve the longevity they have in the game. It is a challenge to keep players in prime physical condition in a contact sport for 10 months! The squad is my focus this season, as I believe that squads not teams win leagues and competitions.

Seriously as the majority of our recruitment has come from players you and Danny have previously worked with, is this just by chance, or did you plan this?

As mentioned before the environment and squad competition is important to me. Danny and I have had experience in working with some of our recruitment targets and believed they would be good additions to our squad. We knew what they could deliver and what value they would add to the training and off field environment. These players have been excellent in improving our culture and working with our young players. As I only retired from playing in 2008 there will inevitable be players I will recruit that I have either played with or against. I think this is a very unique position as I have a very good perspective of the attributes they have. From my time coaching with Harlequins I identified an amazing talent at Filton college…………..Toby Faletau. My first challenge in coming to the Dragons as attack coach was to get the coaches to expose these young players so we could be proactive in their development programs. This is a strategy I believe in as you have seen in our Wasps game this season.

Why is our away form so poor?

To be successful away from home we need to produce the energy and desire we demonstrate at home. Developing a competitive squad and recruiting individuals that will drive standards will help us become a competitive team on the road. The players are very focused in meeting this challenge. We have achieved 2 bonus point loses so far this season as opposed to 1 in the whole of the last season. This is not good enough for myself, or my players. I have never seen a group of disappointed players in a changing room as I experienced in Connacht and Glasgow this season. The away performance is something we are driven to achieve. It can be done as we proved at Wasps. I have no excuses here we simply have to get better.

What is the area we need to strengthen most?

Where do we need further strength in depth? & what are Darren & board doing to address?

The backs in general need strengthening, as we are low in numbers and I have a very young group. What you have seen with the wings is the direction I want to work towards with the squad. We have 3 international wings (Brew, Chavhanga, Harries) competing for 2 places with 2 young players (Pewtner, Poole) chasing them. In the forwards the back row is very strong so the emphasis will go on front row and possibly second row.

We all heard the pre season talk on bringing in a big centre but it never materialised.

We do need to bring some physicality to the midfield and it is something I will achieve. There are no Welsh centres available that have the attributes that I want so I will be bringing in a foreign player. If recruitment goes to plan I will be looking for new additions to the Back line. What is important with midfield recruitment is that I am able to create a number of centre partnerships so that our midfield is creative and not just one-dimensional.

Toward the end of last season we were playing some excellent attacking rugby especially from turnover ball. We seemed to have lost that potency in attack this year. Has there been a change of tactics to adapt other game plans or is it just things not quite working on the field?

The intent to be an attacking team is certainly my aim. I believe you have to play rugby to win games. The problem we have encountered this year has been our backs have been decimated with injuries. Our training ground preparation has been limited from an attacking point of view, as we have had to continually revisit basics to integrate new players rather than improve our attacking game. I am confident our attacking game will improve when we are able to select consistent teams. We are working very hard in order to improve this.

How will the Dragons engage with the region outside Newport? When will games be played in X Keys, Pontypool or Ebbw Vale?

This is a huge target for us to achieve and Robert Beale in particular is passionate about this. What I can tell you from my perspective is what my coaching team are dedicated to achieve. I and my coaches believe that we should impart as much knowledge and engage as many coaches within our region as possible as these coaches are part of the pathway a player goes through on the way to the regional team. We have all presented at coach education evenings throughout the region on various topics. What was a significant step for us in the summer was to host a coaching workshop day at Rodney Parade. The coaches, analysts and conditioners presented on their areas of expertise not just to give the coaches as many ideas as possible but to also give open and honest feedback to what we are doing at the Dragons. The day saw 60 coaches attend from various tiers of the game from mini and junior rugby through to the premiership. I gave an open invite to any regional coach to attend training at any time to see the methods we are using in training and the culture we are trying to create. The result of this has been almost every week we have had coaches shadowing our environment.

Props – what are the plans for future development for front row players?

Front row development is a key area we have targeted. Danny Wilson has set up a front row clinic that meets every two weeks. At this clinic identified front row players from throughout the region get individual coaching with Danny. What also happens is that their coaches also attend so the work can be followed up at club training. These individual players are then watched by all the coaching staff to review their performances on Monday afternoons. From these reviews we identify technical priorities that Danny will then feedback to the players and coaches. As you know front row quality is very valuable to the team and in terms of cost they are the most expensive players to recruit.

Do you think that props should “serve an apprenticeship” at WP or Div 1 level before being introduced to regional rugby?

In most cases props take time to technically and physically mature. The lower divisions are certainly a tough place to serve an apprenticeship, as there are more scrums in these games and many experienced scrummagers. We have told all our players that they need to stand out in the semi professional game first before they are considered for the Dragons. What I feel this does is the player has to engage with the club he is playing for, as he first needs to prove his value to his teammates. If a player does this it tells me that this player has a good attitude and an ambition to play for the Dragons.

I noticed in the pre-season games we seemed to be going low in the tackle to get the man down and compete for the ball. I’ve not seen us do it so much in the season. Is this a work in progress? Luke and Dan seem to be very, very good at this tactic; do we need more jackalling type players to compliment them?

This is our defensive tactic as it takes the momentum out of teams. You saw the result of this tactic at the end of the season in the Ospreys and Blues game as these two teams are very direct and both try to play a power game. As you mentioned we have some players who are very good at doing this, our job now as coaches is to develop the technical ability within all our players. Rob Appleyard is the best defensive coach I have worked with. He is working tirelessly with players on an individual basis to improve their tackle effectiveness. I am very confident we will see the fruits of all the hard work he has put in as the season progresses. Glasgow and Ulster were two clean sheets for us.

What are the plans in regards to the facilities for players? Where and when will these be put in place?

Improving facilities is a battle I am determined to win. There is no point me talking about what we have not got as this will then become an excuse which I do not want to have. Our rugby budget is not big enough currently to build a squad and improve facilities. Establishing a quality training base is what I and the coaches are fully committed to. I will give you an example of that commitment: We are setting up a number of initiatives to generate money to buy gym equipment that is done outside of our working day. My coaches, medics, analysts, conditioners and Mark Jones are constantly trying to generate income to improve the facilities the players have. All the money I would gain from personal appearances and coaching sessions I put into a fund to improve our facilities. We are determined to equip a quality weights gym that will service all players in the region. I am here for a short time and it is important to me that I leave future coaches fundamental facilities to continue the development of the team. It would be great to have all your help or ideas to help us achieve this.

Fitness of our Players?

All of our squad follows a 12-week block during the pre-season. Pre-season is an opportunity to make significant gains in the most appropriate areas for the individual athlete and the team. The logical aim is to make players fitter and stronger. We use anaerobic games and repetition of drills for the majority of our fitness work – whilst our resistance programs consist of some block periodisation and some conjugated methodology. Many other aspects of conditioning are covered including, functional training, mobility, speed and flexibility to name a few.
Players are getting bigger, stronger and leaner every year; this seems to be a consistent progression within most rugby teams. Our testing battery keeps us well informed of the progress of our squad and we regularly make comparisons with regional, national and English Premiership teams. Over the last 10 months we have made significant gains with many players. Feedback from Wales as to the condition of our players going in to the World Cup camp was very good.

I have asked my Head of Conditioning Alex Lawson to develop the players so that they are able to sustain a high tempo game whilst increasing their power and body weight. This is a very difficult task for him as this is a process that takes time, as we still have to play 30+ games in a season. Many of our players have young training ages and it is important that the physical changes are made progressively to avoid injury. Alex is an extremely talented conditioner that has the respect of the players, so I am confident he will achieve the goals I have set. Our physical and technical preparation is focused to achieving a style of play that is skilful and played with high tempo. My playing philosophy is that attacking rugby wins games!

Does he think Toby should grow his afro back?

Yes I do! I enjoyed seeing the afro wigs at games.

As a Maesteg born lad and as a scrum half who were your heroes growing up, also what do you think of your home town’s rugby club demise?

I grew up in South Africa, so my heroes were springbok internationals. It was a great place to be a young rugby player and supporter.

It is very sad to see the demise of Maesteg rugby club, as it has been an integral part of the community for such a long time. When the Celtic Warriors disbanded it left the whole valley without a professional team.

Who is/was better you or the Rascal (Joe Bedford)?

When I was competing against Joe I was 35! I constantly remind Joe of this as he did actually play more games than me. What I tell him now is he has to play more than 250 professional games and play until he is 35!!.

Who’s faster Superman, The Flash or Tonderai Chavhanga?

I can only answer to what I can see with my own eyes and that is Tondi. He can certainly run!

Can I have his job as I could make the Dragons players stand behind the posts looking at conversions all day?

At the moment NO! I have a 3 year contract with the Dragons and I am totally committed to creating a successful team here. There is no way I will give up my chance to improve this team and region as a whole. I believe this is a great place to play rugby and has many talented players that want to achieve. These players will not be watching too many conversions in seasons to come!!!

Thank you for all your questions. I have tried to answer them as honestly as possibly (please appreciate that some are sensitive). Apologies if I have not responded to them all individually as I have tried to give a general answer to a group of similar questions. I have said previously that we need your patience to allow us to change a culture and give us time to build. I believe we are well on the way to achieving this as we have already broken down many barriers. This is what we have achieved so far: (since February 2011)

  • Semi Final LV
  • Double over a Welsh Region- Ospreys
  • Beat the Blues!
  • Developing the stadium
  • Improved the coaching infra structure around the players
  • 5 in the Welsh Squad for the World Cup
  • Outstanding Performances by Dragons players in the World Cup
  • Contracting current World Class Players on long term deals

In my book, we are certainly moving forward. It will always be emotional, but there are certainly more good times to come! That is why we love rugby!