Immediately after the NRFC Shareholder vote to accept the WRU’s offer for the Dragons, both the WRU and Dragons teams’ immediately mobilised and put considerable effort into preparing for this forthcoming transfer of ownership, scheduled to take place around 01 Jul 17. These efforts have been made in order to ensure all parties were fully prepared, and everything necessary was in place, to immediately hit the ground running on the takeover date, and implement a number of significant change initiatives.
In regards to a selection of these ongoing efforts, both Martyn Phillips (CEO WRU) and Stuart Davies (CEO Dragons) have put aside considerable amounts of time to reach out and proactively engage with the DOSC, in order to involve the Dragons Supporters as early on in this process as possible, and take time to consider the thoughts and feelings of the Supporters with regards to the future of the Region. The intent to drive significant change within the Region (on and off the field) has been made clear, and the associated recognition that the Supporters’ will play a significant part in these efforts is something that we feel very optimistic about.
Region Engagement Meeting
The first of the meetings that the DOSC was invited to was the inaugural Regional Engagement session on 22 May 17, a meeting with participants such as; WRU, Dragons Board, Club & District Reps, Organisations such as ourselves and wider Stakeholders from around the Region. The intent was to consult with the Region’s Rugby community, and gather feedback and thoughts on the specific areas for development and opportunity within the Region, and was something that was hoped would become a regular forum for debate moving forwards.
This inaugural meeting was held at Eugene Cross Park in Ebbw Vale, with the intent to take these meetings to locations around the Region, to continue the discussion on matters that effect the game across our Region (Pro, Club, Ladies, Junior, Girls etc) and continue to engage with many of the key stakeholders within these areas
The attendees were invited to use the session to discuss with Martyn Phillips (MP), Stuart Davies (SD) and Ryan Jones (WRU Head of Participation) their opinions and observations with regards to encouraging debate on the strategy and direction for Rugby within the Region. Both MP and SD briefed that although a significant amount of effort was being expended within both the Dragons and WRU teams, examining the future vision, goals and strategy for the Dragons Pro Team, and Rugby within the Region, it was imperative that these areas were discussed and reviewed alongside such ‘focus groups’ of the local Rugby community, working together to deliver change in a joined up approach.
A selection of the areas discussed were:
- What does success at the Dragons look like? Winning team, local talent, increased investment, exciting brand of Rugby?
- Increased connection to the Clubs in Region, with Pro Team seen as an asset and offering support and benefit to the Clubs.
- The appetite to deliver Pro Rugby at Club grounds around the Region? Feedback on the Blues Game at Caerphilly as an 'event', and appetite to repeat with carefully selected fixtures.
- Use of Pro Rugby to influence and grow participation in Region (Pro12 curtain raisers etc) particularly at Junior/Girls levels.
- Creating a ‘family’ environment within Region with players/coaches having increased connections to the Community and Club game.
- Invest in continued local coach development and a fundamental review of the structure and goals of the Region's current Player Development Pathway.
- Branding and Marketing of Dragons as the Region’s Pro Team. What does this entail? Greater communication/engagement with Clubs? Club Representation at Dragons Increased?
- Use of Hub Officers in Marketing and growth of Dragons Regional Support Network and growing the Game/driving School levels consistency.
- Reduce conflict between Club/Pro fixtures wherever practicable. Friday night 19:30 most optimum solution for Pro Game?
- Possible fast-tracking of some of the pathway concepts and the heaviliy researched improvements that Ryan Jones and team have completed into the Dragons Region?
- North Wales’ Rugby appetite, and some of the Community success’ in that Region.
- Series of engagement sessions with Supporters, Clubs, Schools, Partners etc to communicate vision for Dragons and gather feedback continuously.
- Facilities at Rodney Parade require addressing, playing surface and general stadia facilities fatigued.
- Facilities in Community Game, and the appetite to increase 3G pitch footprint to encourage participation. Ryan Jones has a paper researching such plans, warning on the excessive running costs of such a facility as a caveat to stakeholders.
- New Dragons Board, what would makeup of Board Members be representative of in future? Felt to be very important, where personnel, and the relevant skills they bring, could prove to be key to the Region moving forwards.
- open Trg Sessions/Team runs across Region to engage and involve Club Coaches, Juniors etc.
- Exiles program. Paul Turner briefed on the intent to continue to identify Welsh Talent playing outside of Wales. Feasibility of bringing talent back to Dragons Region in order to get into the Welsh Pathway.
The feeling from the meeting held was that it was a very positive start, with some very important topics raised, and had valuable input from a number of sources. All of these debates were held within a context of how this forthcoming change at the Dragons could be utilised to drive many improvements, enhance relationships, offer greater support, and increase participation at all levels of the game across the Region.
It is envisaged that a follow up meeting will be arranged by the WRU at another location within the Region in coming weeks/months, and we hope it will continue to build on this gaining momentum, and continue to involve the Region’s Rugby community in these discussions.
Supporter Engagement Meeting
The second meeting was held with both MP and SD on 31 May, where they both took the time to support a session with the DOSC, in order to discuss the recommendations and findings of last season’s Supporters Survey, and ensure early discussions were held with the Supporters’ prior to the forthcoming change to WRU ownership. Martyn and Stuart were very keen to listen to this feedback, and from our perspective it was good to see them both so enthusiastic and positive in terms of trying to understand the Supporters perspectives, and review what recommendations/observations had been made. It seemed very important to both MP and SD that the views of the Region’s loyal Supporter base were taken on board, and it is hoped that these views will help to inform the future direction in many areas for the Region, and identify where some of the coming efforts could be focussed.
Areas that were discussed were:
- Playing Surface.
- Rodney Parade facilities in areas sub-standard.
- Playing style (second half of season specifically).
- Fundraising for Ed Jackson.
- DOSC Survey results.
- Match Day experience.
- Increase presence of Dragons memorabilia etc to develop heritage/history of Region.
- Family Zone’s match day role.
- Curtain raisers at RP for Juniors/Girls etc
- Increase in Supporter engagement events.
- Developing closer ties between Supporters and team.
- Summer Tour of Dragons to Clubs.
- Reciprocal Ticketing offers to/from Region’s Clubs to encourage support at both.
- Greater transparency to Supporters from Rugby (injuries, training etc).
- DOSC AGM.
The meeting held was very open and honest, with the discussions around areas the Supporters would like to see improvements discussed clearly, and received in a very positive manner. Both Martyn and Stuart were very open to such observations, and it seems are keen to ensure that the Supporters are heavily involved in the future improvements within the Region, and the Rodney Parade Match Day. This was a very productive initial Supporter focussed meeting, which we are aware MP and SD are both keen to repeat face to face with open Supporters Forums/Q&As in the very near future.
What we would like to emphasise from this meeting is that the time taken by our members to complete the Surveys we distribute (electronically and hard copy on match days) prove invaluable. The results and recommendations made in these Surveys play a major part in ensuring we are communcating your feelings to the Dragons directly, and for those that took the time to complete them last season we cannot thank you enough for the value they added to these early discussions.
Joint Supporter Group Meeting
The third meeting was with Martyn Phillips on 6th Jun, at the WRU Centre of Excellence in the Vale Resort. This meeting involved the DOSC acting as the Dragons’ Supporters representatives at the regular Joint Supporters Group meeting with the WRU. This meeting is a reasonably regular commitment the WRU make, where the Region’s formal Supporter representative organisations meet with the WRU to discuss wider strategic issues with Welsh Rugby, or questions/ideas that have come forward from their respective members.
The areas discussed were:
- Pro 12 expansion. Discussions over the potential expansion of the competition, with significant interest from SA, USA and Germany. Intent to bridge financial divide with other competitions, but player welfare remained a key factor in discussions.
- Future makeup of RSA. Regions and WRU in a far more ‘joined up’ position since the last RSA was agreed. Discussions slowly underway on what new agreement would look like, with a focus on clearing up and simplifying the Selection Policy (Gatland’s Law), and the Region’s business models and Academy/Skills Development areas.
- Alignment of National Team/Regions. International Players hosting skills clinics at the Regions was seen as a positive, with 100’s of attendees at Justin Tipuric’s recent clinic.
- RGC progress. Progressing well, with good infrastructure in place and huge appetite for the Game within the Region.
- WRU Supporters Club. Request to review whether greater alignment could be put in place between WRU Supporters’ Club and the Region’s representative bodies.
- Judgment Day. Review of timing of Event, should it be sooner in season (even season curtain raiser) to try and draw more Support into the Game.
- Digital Strategy. WRU confirmed that considerable efforts had been made on online Surveys and research to understand areas of Regional and WRU Support and participation. These efforts were expended to attempt to greater understand the areas for development, and what the Supporters’ valued and prioritised.
- Recruiting of Coaching Staff. WRU confirmed that the National coaches work together with the Regions on Coaching matters, and although no formal arrangements in place, Regions have approached Warren Gatland previously for support and input. The WRU also hold a succession plan for all coaches, with an aim to nurture and foster the future of Welsh coaching.
- Welsh Premiership. WRU currently aware of the fluctuating nature of the Welsh Premiership, and the challenges it faces in bridging the gap between Pro and Semi Pro Rugby. This was not lost on WRU, who agreed it was an area that was being examined, and would remain important to resolve in the medium/long term.
Our major takeaway from this meeting was just how much effort is being expended by Martyn Phillips and his team to improve matters across Welsh Rugby, and how proactive they are being in trying to bridge the perceived financial gaps across the Pro Rugby competitions. Additionally, we would suggest the working relationships between the WRU and the Regions have never been stronger, which is really positive to observe, and will hopefully help drive necessary improvements across all areas.
Future Dragons Supporter Engagement
A further meeting has been now been set up for Monday 19th Jun with the DOSC meeting with Stuart Davies, Martyn Phillips and the new head coach of the Dragons, Bernard Jackman. This is for the committee to discuss the new vision for the Dragons on and off the field with the Senior Leadership team, understand what part the Supporters can play in the forthcoming changes within the Region, arrange details of future Supporter based events, and help inform the upcoming DOSC AGM.
The clear appetite for the Dragons and the WRU to continue to engage with us so transparently and frequently provides us with confidence and optimism, and hopefully this continued dialogue will help ensure the feelings and observations of the Dragons Supporters are considered throughout the upcoming changes to the Region. On a separate note, It has also been very encouraging to see our new Head Coach (Bernard Jackman) taking so much time after his appointment to engage with Supporters on Social Media etc, from these early discussions he seems a very popular appointment, and a sincere and genuine man. We very much look forward to arranging some events in the Summer for him to meet with Supporters, and discuss his vision for the team and the Region over a drink.
On that it is only fitting that we offer a word of thanks to our outgoing Head Coach, Kingsley Jones, who held the position through what, if we are honest, were pretty challenging times. We would like to thank Kingsley for his dedicated efforts at the Region, his commitment to the development of our young players, and from our perspective, his support to the DOSC's initial establishment and our Supporter events. We would like to wish Kingsley all the best in his new role with the WRU, and the exiles program, something we hope continues to drive strong young talent into the Region.
From the meetings already held, and the further meetings scheduled to occur in coming days, it is clear just how much effort is being expended by the Dragons, and the WRU, to try and drive significant improvements and change within the Region. The meetings which the DOSC have been invited to thus far are obviously only a small percentage of the total effort, but from what we’ve seen in these forums, the appetite to ensure the views of Supporters, and wider stakeholders are reviewed and discussed are laudable, and prove a very promising start indeed.
This is encapsulated by the early enthusiasm that Martyn Phillips, Stuart Davies and Bernard Jackman have shown with regards to organising opportunities to meet up with Supporters and openly discuss their thoughts and intent for next season. It is exciting to see such openness and positivity, and it cannot help but excite us over what is undoubtedly a new dawn for the team and wider Region.
With the Region’s Leadership so open to engage, from our perspective we’d obviously encourage all Dragons Supporters to continue to discuss your ideas, observations or concerns with us when/where you can. We can assure you that the views expressed in these communications prove invaluable, and as your representatives, will continue to be communicated to the Dragons in a clear and professional manner.
As such, we will plan to design a pre-season Supporter Survey in the coming weeks, in order to ensure we continue to capture the thoughts and feelings of the loyal Supporters, and we’d encourage you to take the time to share your thoughts with us, as we hope the above examples illustrate, there is a real passion and enthusiasm to listen to your thoughts at the highest levels.
The last few weeks have increased the sense of optimism for the season ahead, and although patience will undoubtedly be required, we remain hugely encouraged by the positive intent from all involved to drive increased support and improvements in Rugby across all areas within our Region. Many of us have stuck through the Dragons, home and away, through thick and thin, we hope all the efforts being made, and the positive intent thus far, will hopefully result in a bit more ‘thick’ than 'thin' in the coming years….