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Williams column: A strong Dragons team can help Pivac make strides

Aaron Wainwright

AS we head into 2020 there is a fair bit of uncertainty in Welsh rugby. The unknown can be daunting, but it can also be exciting and I’m caught somewhere between the two as we get ready to celebrate New Year. It certainly represents an interesting time.

In many ways the start of the new decade is also the beginning of a new era in Welsh rugby. That brings with it its own challenges, but it can also not be an excuse for failure or poor performances.

That applies to both the regional and international game. The former is the lifeblood of the game in our country and when I look at the state of our four regions, there is reason for both cheer and fear.

I have to be honest when I say that. By nature I am a positive person so let’s look at those first!

The Dragons look like they are rebuilding well under Dean Ryan and I’ve been impressed with them in the Christmas derbies so far. I thought the Scarlets played into their hands at Rodney Parade, but they still showed plenty of character to come out on top. It’s been great to see Sam Davies back firing as a first-choice fly-half and for me he holds the key to the Dragons’ hopes of success.

If Dean can get Sam performing to his best behind a powerful pack then I’m very hopeful they can continue to make strides as they have done already this season.

The way their forwards went against the Scarlets and the Blues certainly bodes well. I know they lost in Cardiff, but their scrum was excellent, they scored from a driving line-out, and they are starting to look like a cohesive team again. Given the mess Dean took over that’s not a bad start.

Now the challenge is to go to the next level. Let’s be clear here, we can’t expect the Dragons to be winning the PRO14 in the next season or so, but it is so important for Wales to have a competitive region in Newport. When I was coming through the system people used to say “a strong Gwent makes a strong Wales” and although things have changed a little since then, the premise remains the same. It is one I very much agree with. The Dragons should be excited about where they can go as they have the basis of a talented young squad. In the pack Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths, Elliot Dee and Taine Basham are all key men the region must keep hold of.

Ross Moriarty
Next level: Ross Moriarty could be pressed for a place in the Wales starting line-up with Taulupe Faletau coming back from injury and club teammates Aaron Wainwright and Taine Basham impressing. Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There are also Wales internationals in Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty. Like the Dragons, the Scarlets should be excited about what’s to come even with the news Brad Mooar will be leaving.

I was at Parc y Scarlets for their Boxing Day hammering of the Ospreys and some of the rugby they played was outstanding. With Liam Williams returning from Saracens (what a signing that is!), the back-line in Llanelli looks like it could be world class. You won’t be able to move for Wales internationals down there. That sort of prospect is mouth-watering for any coach and that is the next key thing for the region to sort. I have every confidence they will get it right as their last two appointments in Wayne Pivac and Brad have been excellent. The next man has some act to follow.

The Blues won both of their first two Christmas derbies and with the Ospreys in a mess, they must now set themselves the challenge of rivalling the Scarlets as Wales’ premier region. It will be tough, but they also have exciting young players. Josh Adams has made a fine start to his capital career.

So what about the Ospreys? These are dark days for my former side. To see them thrashed 44-0 by their biggest rivals in the biggest game of the season represented a new low in an awful season.

It is hard to see how they can turn the corner right now. Unfortunately, there is a good argument to say they may as well write off the rest of this season and look ahead to the next.

We all know the injuries, World Cup absentees and loss of confidence have contributed to the current status quo. To see the Ospreys in the state they were on Boxing Day saddened me no end.

The immediate task for me has to be to find a new head coach. Things aren’t improving at all under Carl Hogg and Matt Sherratt right now – arguably they’re getting even worse – but it’s important to realise what is happening at the moment is also going to have a big impact on the future Ospreys too.

They are going to struggle to attract good new players given their current predicament. That said they do still have fine players and at some point the tide will turn.

At the moment they are the team with the most work to do. It feels strange to write that given the region’s past successes, but it is certainly true.

We all know the regions will always have work to do to compete with the best, but on the whole three of our four sides are heading in the right direction.

That bodes well for what Wayne can achieve with Wales going into his first Six Nations. Here’s hoping for a successful 2020 in Welsh rugby.

SHANE WILLIAMS

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