Bernard Jackman to instil parish mentality to fire up Dragons
The former Leinster player believes his side are in position similar to Connacht
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen with Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman at the Guinness PRO14 season launch at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin earlier this month. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty
Of any Pro14 coach Bernard Jackman understands that when Leinster arrive in Rodney Parade for their first match on Saturday without some of their Lions and Irish players, it is not necessarily a good omen.
A new broom in Dragons, the former Leinster, Connacht and Ireland hooker arrived from cash-strapped Grenoble at the end of last season and has set to work building the Welsh club, now under the auspices of the Welsh Rugby Union, from the ground up.
From his days in the RDS under Michael Cheika, Jackman understands consistency and regardless of what names are in the Leinster team on Saturday, he knows they come hungry and with motive.
“Are we good enough to beat Leinster first up?,” he asks rhetorically. “I’ve no idea,” he says. “Historically I would have gone to Newport with Leinster with second stream players and did better than we went with first stream. Different motivation levels, you know.
“Leo [Cullen] is a good friend. He’s the coach I have kept in contact with the most. We played together. I went to see Leinster against Gloucester. They put 50 points on Gloucester, who had their best team out so it’s a big challenge with us.
“The reality is Leinster went to the Dragons last year with a young side and put 50 points on them. That’s just the quality they have. I don’t have that quality.”
Jackson’s roundabout way to Wales has taken him to familiar ground. Dragons are on the trail of hearts and minds. Traditional rivalry between town and village and the turmoil when the game went professional has been handed down. But the Dragons, much like the Irish provinces, are now looking to the hinterland for a support base and connections.
He is trying to instil the parish mentality, invite rugby people from Ghent, Ebbw Vale and Caerphilly to emotionally invest in the club. Something he learned in France, he says, is the importance of the team to the locality.
All the Irish provinces have done it with Leinster some years ago engaging in a significant campaign to explain that Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy, even Leo Cullen were among many Leinster players who were not from Dublin city.
“We’ve taken Newport out of the name which sounds not like a big deal but it was,” says Jackman. “People from Ebbw Vale, Caerphilly spent their whole life as small villages or towns wanting to beat the city.
“There was a huge legacy of mistrust and rivalry. But now under new branding, hopefully a new head coach, new ownership and a new project we can bring those people behind us.
“There is big pressure for us to get our performance levels up to scratch. The Dragons only won four games last year. It’s understandable that if you only win four games people are not going to be passionately following you. You get what you deserve. But there is a fresh start.”
Jackman, whose career came to an end after a series of concussion injuries, sees Dragons’ position similar to that of Connacht. Even Leinster, when he played with them were short on certain aspects of performance until Australian Cheika came along and hammered into them some home truths.
Having talented players is just part of it and Dragons have not yet begun a recruitment process. Culture and structures and common focus have to be there.
“If you have only had a bad culture, it is very hard to understand what a good one looks like,” he says. “Connacht was brilliant for me. But the biggest learning factor I ever had was being part of that change in Leinster.
“Cheika came in 2005. It was my first year. He had to fight tooth and nail for three seasons to get us to change.
“We won a Magners League in 2008 and then won the Heineken Cup 2009. We had some dark days, days when we underperformed massively in 2006 and 2007. Part of that was our lack of understanding of how important it was to be consistent.
“Because we had so much talent we got away with it sometimes. But you don’t get away with it when you come up against someone just as talented as you are or less talent but a better culture.”
Challenges are what he expects and how Dragons react to those is what will give them impetus. He’s charged by the different aspects of his job but he has a clear view.
In France he says he let his standards drop because France is France and sometimes “c’est la vie” is the attitude. In Grenoble, the ambition each year was to stay up. The next match was always the imperative, the next result was always tomorrow.
Now Dragons will travel to South Africa with players who have never been out of the UK before. That he sees as an education, not something to fear.
“It’s good to play them first,” he says of Leinster. “It’s good to know where we are at and we are going to know where we are at pretty quickly.
“Leinster, Ospreys, Munster and Scarlets are the litmus tests. In pre-season all your ducks are swans. Everybody looks good but you find out a lot about people when you come into games. How much of the current squad are there next year will very much depend on them.”