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Dragons primed for final flourish

Guinness PRO12 Editor

25 Feb 2011

Dragons lock Luke Charteris insists his side haven’t given up on a top-four shot despite being 13 points off the Play-Off pace.

Currently sitting in seventh place in the standings, you’d get good odds on the Dragons closing to within one game of the second Magners League Grand Final.

But outward appearances can be deceiving. Yes, the Dragons are still three wins adrift of fourth spot but their title aspirations are far from dead and buried.

Ahead of tonight’s trip to Glasgow, the Dragons have games in hand on each of the six sides above them. Leaders Munster, reigning champions the Ospreys and fifth-placed Leinster have all played two more matches than the Dragons, while second-placed Scarlets have completed 16 fixtures, three more than Charteris and co.

Even Ulster and the Blues are a game ahead on the Magners League calendar, meaning there’s plenty of optimism within the Dragons camp.

When you consider that a number of key figures have now returned from injury and that the region have lost just twice in the league since the first week in October, it’s hardly surprising that the Dragons are in an upbeat mood.

Throw in a breath of fresh air in acting head coach Darren Edwards and success in the group stages of the LV = Cup and things are looking up at Rodney Parade.

"It’s like what happened last year," said Charteris, who could reach a century of Magners League games by the end of the term.

"We had a pretty bad start to last season and then at this sort of time we started getting a run of wins and towards the end of the year we were really challenging.

"It’s not as if we set out at the beginning of the season to say ‘right, we’ll chill out for the first half and then go for it in the second half’, but unfortunately, with the injuries we’ve had, that’s the way it seems to have gone.

"But we’re back to near full strength and with that we’re playing a lot better. Hopefully we can now get some good wins.

"We want to get into the Play-Offs and be challenging for silverware at the end of the season. That also doubles up as Heineken Cup qualification. We are the bottom Welsh region in the Magners League at the moment so we know that, as well as challenging for the top four in the Magners, we’ve got to challenge to get in the top three Welsh teams as well.

"Those are our two goals for the second half of the season and we’re determined to go out there and achieve them."


The Dragons will battle all the way for a Play-Off spot

Strength in depth has often been perceived as a weakness at Rodney Parade but the Dragons seem keen to dismiss that myth this season.

More players than ever before are now competing for a first-team slot, with stars of feeder clubs such as Newport stepping up to make their mark on the big stage.

When you couple that increased competition across the squad with the presence of returning stars who have now put their injury miseries behind them, it’s easy to see why Charteris is optimistic about his side’s chances of finishing the season with a flourish.

"We’ve got to a position now where we’ve got some really good strength in depth in pretty much all positions around the park," added Charteris.

"Examples of that are boys like Pat Leach in the centre who’s come in and played superbly and Matthew J Watkins, another of the boys who’s been out injured and has come back in. Those two have formed a really good partnership.

"Matthew Jones has been given a run at 10 and has looked really good. It starts to put pressure on guys like Jason Tovey and Ashley Smith, who have been regulars in the team. It forces them to raise their game and that’s what’s happening.

"That little bit of competition within the team raises everyone’s level and, by doing that, it raises the levels of the team as a whole and can change results to a more positive outcome.

"We’re not where we want to be in the League at this time of the year but, saying that, we’re in a pretty good position in that we’ve got some boys coming back from injury. We’re pretty much back to full strength.

"It does give you a boost getting the injured players back. Probably Joe (Bearman) and Martyn (Thomas) are the two that have come back and have added a spark to the team. They’ve been key players for us over the last few years.

"Boys have stepped up and played well, especially in the back row – we’ve got so much strength there now, which is really good. But having those guys back and getting a few wins, it’s amazing what confidence can do for you. You can get on a roll and hopefully we can keep that going and that should bode well for the end of the season.

"We’re only missing one player in Danny (Lydiate) during the Six Nations and we’ve got a few big games coming up where we can hopefully try to take advantage of maybe other teams being slightly weaker and us being back to full strength. If we can pick up a few wins, that would really start putting us back up there challenging for the top four."


Pat Leach has been in fine form for the Dragons

A hat-trick of successive Magners League wins has given the Dragons plenty to smile about in recent weeks and Charteris is hoping for more of the same in the remaining nine regular league games.

The introduction of the Play-Off system means far more teams have a realistic shot at lifting the trophy come May 28 and Charteris feels the time is right for the Dragons to start targeting tangible success.

"It’s been a while since we’ve been challenging for some silverware. We’ve managed to get through to the LV= semi final and it’s certainly something the boys want another taste of.

"We’ll be trying to push on in the Magners. The way it works now with the Play-Off system, you can afford to have a slower start to the season. You’ve got to get into the top four and, once you’re there, you know you’ve got as good a chance as anyone."