10:20am Wednesday 7th August 2013
By Iwan Gabe Davies
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons chairman Martyn Hazell has outlined how qualifying for the Heineken Cup at the end of the coming season is the region’s major objective.
The competition’s future is in the balance and the Dragons chief hopes for an imminent compromise to keep the English and French in Europe’s premier club tournament.
Hazell has also admitted that although season ticket sales are up on last year, the region has a difficult battle to be competitive in these harsh economic times.
But there has been much to cheer in recent months with the arrival of two popular coaches.
Director of rugby Lyn Jones and assistant Kingsley Jones, in charge of the forwards, are on board, while this week Toby Faletau signed a new deal.
The Wales and Lions star number eight has committed to the Dragons until May 2016.
It remains to be seen how a number of new signings, like veteran Wales scrum-half Richie Rees and hooker Rhys Thomas, will fare, as well as foreign imports such as Italy fly-half Kris Burton, Cheetahs lock Martin Muller, Pumas tighthead prop Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro from Stade Français, Fijian back-rower Netani Talei from Edinburgh and returning former favourite outside-half Jason Tovey who has left Cardiff Blues.
But there is an undeniable feel-good factor surrounding Rodney Parade at the moment.
Hazell is aiming for a mid-table league finish and a Heineken Cup spot next year, meaning they won’t have to settle for the group stages of the inferior Amlin Challenge Cup, a tournament they again find themselves competing in for the coming campaign.
And while he admits there probably won’t be any more signings for the coming season, Hazell thinks things are in place for the Dragons to achieve their short-term goals.
“We’ve pushed the boat out a bit (on new signings),” he said.
“We’ve got a fairly good squad now and we’ve put things in place – I’m optimistic.
“If we get half way up the table I’ll be pleased. What we’ve got to do is get this Heineken Cup thing sorted. We’re going into the new season with the competition not sorted out (for 2014/15). We hope to get into it for the season after next – that’s our ambition.
“We’ve been out of the Heineken Cup for a couple of years now and let’s hope we can get back into it. I hope we are going in the right direction.”
On the challenging economic conditions, Hazell said: “We’ve sold a lot more season tickets than last year but season ticket sales, of course, are only a small proportion of your income.
“Sponsorship is what you want but we’re in Newport and we are in a depression in Wales. It’s not easy. People want to do it but they don’t want to give any large sums, it’s small sums.
“Financially we break even, so it’s not too bad.”
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