Bernard Jackman focusing on long-term plan at Dragons
Determined coach says short-term pain is horrible but necessary to build a stronger side
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman: “I don’t want to go to Munster, Leinster and Ulster and get hammered but I have to take a medium- to long-term plan.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Bernard Jackman is his own man. But when he was playing with Leinster in 2005, an Australian coach arrived to the RDS and began a wholesale change that blew through Leinster rugby like a category five. Hurricane Michael had arrived. Cheikia, a Randwick old boy, a Lebanese background and a mind for heaps of hard yakka.
Jackman watched and listened and more than a decade on he finds himself in Wales reupholstering Dragons.
The region, who face Ulster on Friday, were taken over by the Welsh Rugby Union much as the IRFU did to Irish provinces at the beginning of professionalism. There is pain along the way.
“I was there is 2005. Leinster had been in a real state of disarray,” says Jackman. “They had Declan Kidney and Gary Ella just before. Both didn’t stay very long. Results were poor, they had loads of talent. Michael Cheika came in and we didn’t win anything until 2008.
“I saw Cheika coming in uncompromising, knew what he needed to do on and off the field: recruitment, retention, fitness levels, culture, S&C, facilities. He pushed the boundaries with the board. He pushed the boundaries with the players. He got rid of people who didn’t fit into the philosophy.”
Jackman has given 58 players game time so far this season and has targeted home matches. He is blooding players, probably before their time and building. Ross Moriarty has just arrived. He hopes Toby Faletau will show interest when his contract is up with Bath.
Jackman is aiming high and has targeted 14 new players for next season. This year they sink or swim.
“If there were two players I want I would have said Toby Faletau, who is ex-Dragons and we hope to bring him back. But he’s on a contract for another year with Bath. And Ross Moriarty.
“He’s in a mould similar to that of Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien in terms of being abrasive and uncompromising.
“Ross is a British and Irish Lion, who will hopefully play for Wales. It’s a big statement. The Dragons was a place you would go if you couldn’t get anywhere else. We are changing that now.”
Ulster know Dragons are vulnerable and with backs coach Dwayne Peel a natural observer of Welsh rugby, he can see the stretched resources.
Playing at home and rolling out the strongest team they have is likely still short of the mark. Jackman realises the dimensions of what he is doing. But he knows he can’t die every week and a longer ball game is in play.
“The short-term pain is horrible,” he says. “I don’t want to go to Munster, Leinster and Ulster and get hammered but I have to take a medium- to long-term plan.
“I spoke to [Scottish coach] Gregor Townsend. Let’s not forget where Glasgow were when Greg took over. Glasgow were piss poor and he built that up. Wayne Pivac’s first year at Scarlets was really difficult because all the older players rallied against the type of game plan he wanted to impose and environment he wanted to create.
“It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s knowing where you want to go.”
So far Dragons have played 12 games, eight of those away from home. It has been lopsided and difficult. The upside is a string of home games starting with Ulster.
“We can definitely win,” says Jackman. “A win would be great. Enough positives would slingshot us into the next four games, an opportunity to lay down some markers.”
Ulster, with Europe looming, is thinking just that.