Flanagan: You have to be at your best to pick up points in this league
As a self-confessed rugby nause, the BKT United Rugby Championship is right up Dai Flanagan’s street.
The Dragons RFC coach relishes the different kind of challenges thrown up week-in, week-out by the cross-country competition. That variety has been perfectly illustrated by the Gwent region’s fixture schedule so far this season.
In the opening four rounds, they have faced teams from Scotland (Edinburgh Rugby), Ireland (Munster), South Africa (Cell C Sharks) and Italy (Benetton). Next Saturday evening, they will complete the set when they take on Cardiff Rugby at the Arms Park in a Welsh derby.
“What I like about this league is it’s like an international game every weekend. You’ve got to be at your best. If you aren’t, then it gets away from you,” said former fly-half Flanagan, who switched from the Scarlets over the summer. “I think it’s a pretty exciting league. I am a bit of a rugby nause. I watch every league, but I do really enjoy watching our league.
“For a player, it’s great to go out to Italy to experience that sort of culture for two days and then play against an Italian team. I know at the end of November, start of December we’ve got a trip to South Africa where we are going to play on their grounds. There’s not many leagues in the world can say that in any sport.”
It’s a view echoed by one of the Dragons’ new signings, back-five forward George Nott, who has come on board after some eight years in England with Sale and London Irish.
“One of the reasons I wanted to join is it’s just a really fun league to be in. It’s intense, with all the travelling, but there’s no other league where you get to experience so many different cultures,” he said.
Pointing to another shift from what he has been used to, Nott added: “One of the big differences between the Premiership and here is the majority of the players are from the area and they have that connection to the shirt which you can’t buy. Premiership clubs try to, but with the Dragons something like 80 per cent of the players in the squad are from the area and they have that belief in the shirt and it makes the rest of us want to as well.
“I have come new to the environment and seen how loud and passionate our fans are. That translates onto the pitch with the players. The passion is contagious. We are all here representing the shirt and you see that in the crowd as well. It really spurs us on.”
Born in Bodelwyddan, in north Wales, Nott was raised in Llandudno and Mold, but then went across the border to study at King’s School in Chester, ahead of linking up with Sale, where he spent five years ahead of joining London Irish in 2019.
“I always knew I would come back to play rugby in Wales one day. I loved my time in the Premiership and it was tough to close the door on it, but I always knew I would make the move at some point and this year just felt like the right time,” said the 26-year-old.
“I am loving living back in Wales. Obviously I grew up in north Wales and there’s no real region up there to represent, so I feel like I’ve really been adopted by this region. When I signed, one of the things they wanted me to bring was my experience, so I’m trying to add that as much as I can.”
The Dragons’ trip to Treviso ended in a 34-14 defeat at the hands of Benetton, with a 17-0 half-time deficit leaving them too much to do. They will take some heart from an improved display after the break, with wing Rio Dyer and debut-making centre Steff Hughes both touching down.
Former Scarlets skipper Hughes, who has joined on an initial short-term deal as injury cover, told Dragons TV: “To be fair to Benetton, they were really physical early doors. They set the intensity of the game and we just didn’t quite stick with that.
“They kept it simple, kicked really well and did the basics. We probably didn’t deal with that as well as we could, so I think we can learn from them in terms of how they went at that first 20 minutes. They controlled the territory and the set-piece.
“We played with a little bit more tempo in the second half and tried to move the ball and it suited us. It was obviously nice to score a try on my first game.
“We have got a lot of little things to work on and we are obviously looking forward to going to Cardiff next weekend. They had a good win against the Scarlets on Saturday.
“There is a lot of good and growth in this group and that’s exciting moving forward. We just need to make sure we nail our basics early doors, be physical and win the aerial battle.”
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