The Newport Gwent Dragons (Welsh: Dreigiau Casnewydd Gwent) are one of the four professional Rugby Union teams in Wales. They are jointly-owned by Newport RFC and the WRU and play all their home games at Rodney Parade, Newport. They play in the Magners League, as well as competing in the EDF Energy Cup and the Heineken Cup in the 2008-09 season. The region they represent covers an area of southeast Wales including Newport, Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, with a total population approaching 500,000, and are affiliated with a number of semi-professional and amateur clubs throughout the area, including Welsh Premier Division sides Bedwas RFC, Cross Keys RFC, Ebbw Vale RFC, Newport RFC and the newly-promoted Pontypool RFC.
Formed in 2003 as a result of the regionalisation of Welsh rugby, the team started life with a third-placed finish in the 2003-2004 Celtic League, narrowly failing to repeat their initial exploits the season after, ending it in fourth. The team has however struggled to match those early heights, finishing in the bottom three in the 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. In 2007 they reached the semi finals of the European Challenge Cup, losing to French side ASM Clermont Auvergne 46-29. They are yet to have made the knockout stages of either the Heineken or EDF Energy cup tournaments.
Current player, Adam Black holds the appearance record for the team, with a 134 games for the region and Jamie Ringer and Peter Sidoli have also played over a 100 times. The teams highest career points scorer is Ceri Sweeney with 570 points, and highest career try scorer is Gareth Wyatt with 26. They are currently coached by Paul Turner and captained by Tom Willis.
They were formed on the 1st April 2003, following an agreement between Ebbw Vale RFC and Newport RFC, to form one of five regional rugby entities. Fundamental disagreements between the clubs, saw a period of arbitration, lead by the then Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett, which recommended the name "Gwent Dragons". On the 28th of July the side was launched under that name. This prompted Newport RFC benefactor Tony Brown to withdraw his financial support for the region. However by the 21st of August Brown returned following Ebbw Vale chairman Marcus Russell's resignation and the side's name becoming "Newport and Gwent Dragons". With the Welsh Rugby Union demanding an explanation for the changes, and acrimony between the two clubs another agreement was struck, , resulting in the side officially becoming "Newport Gwent Dragons". On the 12th November 2003 the region's founding company "Gwent Rugby Ltd" entered into administration. On the 27 November 2003 "Dragons Rugby Ltd." a new company was established to run the region, with both Newport RFC and the Welsh Rugby Union holding a fifty percent stake.
Under Mike Ruddock and his assistant Clive Griffiths Newport Gwent Dragons with a squad largely drawn from the Newport RFC and Ebbw Vale RFC sides of the preceding year, confounded their limited pre-season expectations. Despite starting their life in top-class rugby with a 35-11 defeat away to Llanelli Scarlets it was to prove to be the regions most successful season so far. A 29-19 win over the Ospreys was to prove more telling, captained by Andy Marinos the side remained unbeaten at home in the Celtic League and claimed the scalp of Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup. Going into the final round with an outside chance of taking the title, the Dragons ended up finishing third in the Celtic League. WRU bosses were sufficiently impressed as to appoint Ruddock to the vacant Welsh coaching job in the summer of 2004. Ruddock rewarded two of his former Dragons players, Hal Luscombe and Jason Forster with their first test caps on Wales's summer tour of Argentina rugby . Percy Montgomery also impressed Springbok selector enough to remind them of his international credentials, and earn a Tri-Nations recall.
The following off season saw a marked change in direction at Rodney Parade. Gareth Cooper, Kevin Morgan and Ceri Sweeney were amongst a handful of players who joined the region in the wake of the Celtic Warriors being disbanded. Having originally agreed to replace Mike Ruddock as head coach, Declan Kidney decided instead to seek employment back home with Leinster. It was not until the 27 July 2004 that former Australian rugby league coach Chris Anderson was appointed, with Leigh Jones as his assistant. Another credible Celtic League campaign followed, finishing in fourth spot, the second highest Welsh region. The sides Heineken Cup could be viewed as a wasted opputunity, having beaten French Perpignan at home 27-14, defeat home and away to Newcastle Falcons put pay to any quarter final ambitions. Chris Anderson's contract was not extended beyond its initial one-year duration.
2005: Paul Turner era
The region looked to Harlequins backs coach Paul Turner, a Welshman, as their new head coach. Turner would also have to contend with Percy Montgomery returning to South Africa and Newport stalwart Rod Snow retiring. Munster and Sale Sharks proved too strong in the Heineken cup. After finishing 8th in the Magners League, a 24-15 defeat Overmach Parma in a play-off for the following seasons Heineken cup proved a new low for the region. EDF Energy Cup wins over Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints were the highlights of a tough season. Turner remained, even if Wales international Hal Luscombe did not.
Former Wales captain Colin Charvis joined in August 2006 and the Dragons went onto a European Challenge Cup semi-final, losing comfortably to ASM Clermont Auvergne. Domestically though, the region's European exploits appeared to take their toll, slumping to a ninth-placed finish in the Magners League . Significantly the region avoided the prospect of a second season away from the Heineken Cup, defeating another Italian side Calvisano 22-15. The match also marked the end for departing Wales internationals Ian Gough and Gareth Cooper at Rodney Parade.
2007-2008 proved to be another challenging season for the region. Signings Andy Williams and Richard Parks were not able to help reverse the side's fortunes, with a Heineken Cup campaign that only saw one win against Italian side Treviso and exiting the EDF Enercy Cup in the pool stages for a third year running. Between completing a double over Llanelli Scarlets on January 1st to defeating the Ospreys on May 6th, the region went without a Magners League win. Despite finishing as the lowest-placed Welsh side in the league the region qualified for next season's Heineken Cup, without having to play off against Italian opposition.
Summer 2008 has the potential to be the busiest yet for arrivals and departures for Newport Gwent Dragons, with Welsh Internationals Ceri Sweeney and Michael Owen along with several other squad members having already been confirmed to leave Rodney Parade. In their place a host of New Zealanders including former All Blacks hooker Tom Willis, and Welsh players including Ospreys pair Shaun Connor and Tal Selley, along with former Australia A centre Marc Stcherbina, signed on a one year loan from Cardiff Blues.
The naming of the region has caused considerable turbulence. The Newport Gwent Dragons are a new side created out of the restructuring of Wesh rugby and are meant to represent their designated region as is the case with the Cardiff Blues, the Llanelli Scarlets and the Neath Swansea Ospreys. Some in the Welsh rugby world, such as Welsh rugby legend Bobby Windsor, believe that including the name Newport would alienate some fans in the surrounding valley. While much of the support in the larger Newport area support greater identification with the City of Newport and a continuation of the historic traditions of Newport RFC. Several names were suggested but all were rejected by the WRU. In the end, the WRU decided the region's name for them, the "Gwent Dragons". Going back on the previous agreement the word "Newport" was added to the team name and indeed the kit shows that displayed far larger and more obvious than the Gwent Dragons part. This was in response to the very poor reaction to a 'Gwent Dragons' side, entering administration before playing a game. This addition and choice of kit has added a greater Newport emphasises and has enabled the side to move towards greater equity to the position of Cardiff and Llanelli.
The Newport Action Group, among others, claim the side has lost more supporters by including the name "Gwent" in its title: The crowds supporting the Newport Gwent Dragons averaged 5,154 for the 2005/2006 season , whereas in the 2002/2003 season, Newport was Wales' best supported club and British rugby's fourth best with an average attendance of 8,302 - after English Premiership outfits, Leicester, Gloucester and Northampton. Although controversy surrounding the naming of the region might be petty, rugby in South Wales is deeply divided amongst hundreds of historic rugby clubs with bitter rivalries. In the 2006-2007 season, attendance averaged 5,629 at Rodney Parade.
The Newport Gwent Dragons play all their home matches at Newport's Rodney Parade (home of Newport RFC). This is the only ground in the region with facilities suitable for regional games, with a capacity of around 11,000 and the city of Newport is the centre of the region's transportation system. However, it is ageing compared to other more modern stadia, and faces serious health and safety issues in the not too distant future. In early January 2007 the Dragons board announced plans for the development of the ground with a 1,400 seater stand with bars and restaurants and more facilities for fans and players. On the 4th May 2007 the South Wales Argus announced a plan by a local business consortium to build a new stadium for the Newport Gwent Dragons. These plans appear to have been shelved, however, with new plans for investment involving a redevelopment of Newport's Rodney Parade ground, seemingly welcomed by leading figures at the club.
Adam Black, Jamie Ringer and Peter Sidoli have all made over a hundred Newport Gwent Dragons appearances. Prop Adam Black was the first centurion in Dragons colours, achieving the feat along with flanker Jamie Ringer during the 2006-2007 season. The following season lock Peter Sidoli would also go on to break through the three figure mark.
Several players have been capped internationally while with the region. Prop Chris Anthony(2003-06) brothers Aled and Nathan Brew at three quarters, scrum half Gareth Cooper, flanker Jason Forster, second row Ian Gough three quarter Haldane Luscombe, centre Andy Marinos, number eight Michael Owen and outside half Ceri Sweeney were all capped by Wales during their time at Rodney Parade. While current players second row Luke Charteris, hooker Steve Jones, full back Kevin Morgan, flankers Richard Parks and Jamie Ringer, scrum half Andy Williams and wing Gareth Wyatt have all featured Wales test matches. South African full back Percy Montgomery, Tongan utility back Sione Tu'ipulotu and Canadian prop Rod Snow played internationally for their respective nations, while with the region.
Newport Gwent Dragons were initially coached by Mike Ruddock who joined from Ebbw Vale RFC. Ruddock left to become Wales national team coach after just one season in charge. Irishman Declan Kidney was intended as Ruddock's replacement for the 2003-2004 season, but after just three weeks his contract was mutually terminated, deciding to return home to coach another Irish province Leinster instead. Former Australia rugby league coach Chris Anderson took over as head coach, and like Ruddock only stayed for a season. Paul Turner has been head coach for three seasons since 2005. Leigh Jones has been an assistant to all three head coaches and is currently forwards coach, with Dai Rees as backs coach. Current player Colin Charvis has been appointed contact and defence skills coach for the 2008-2009 season. Long term team manager Jim McCreedy stepped down from his role at the end of the 2007-2008 season, being replaced by Robert Beale who left his role as Cross Keys director of rugby.