After a win and a loss in warm up games with Ospreys and RGC going back to the warmth of August, Dragons were only able to claim a solitary victory against Connacht Eagles in the augural Celtic Cup competition, so bolstered their young squad with a handful of senior figures for the contest with Hong Kong at perishing Eugene Cross Park.
Led by former Dragons coach Leigh Jones, Hong Kong began the first test on a two-match tour of Wales before heading into the final Rugby World Cup qualifying competition in Marseille where they will take on Canada, Germany and Kenya in a round-robin tournament for the final spot at Japan 2019.
The Asian champions swapped the 30 degrees of Hong Kong for the surroundings of sub-zero Blaenau Gwent, but didn’t appear to be out of their comfort zone in the early stages, showing flashes of their potential, especially through their Sevens specialists who will need to cause an upset if they are to qualify and earn the reward of locking horns with the All Blacks, Springboks and Italy.
The Dragons A blended youthful exuberance with greater experience, particularly in the second half, to turn a 19-7 deficit at the interval into a four-point win to complete a two-month block of fixtures.
Chapron has seen progress from his youngsters, with thirteen of the Celtic Cup squad picked for a Wales under-20 training camp at the end of October.
“It was good to end with a win tonight as that will help the confidence of the group. There’s definitely been progress through the Celtic Cup. From going away to Munster and Ulster and all that entails, staying in hotels, the travel, the boys have taken a lot from it, as have the coaching team, myself included,” Chapron said.
“We played Leinster up at Ystrad and even though the result didn’t go our way, it was a different level. The boys now understand when you make a mistake it can be so costly. We didn’t exactly learn from those lessons tonight, but it will hold them in good stead going forwards.”
For some the Celtic Cup replaced the British and Irish Cup that went before it, giving regional sides comprising Premiership players a chance at cross-border competition, but arguably it’s closer to the latter stages of the Anglo-Welsh competition, with the block of fixtures providing greater opportunity for training and player development.
“We’ve had pretty much the same group through the Celtic Cup,” explained Chapron, “as Bernard has been really good in releasing boys at the start of the week, we’ve trained live against the seniors a couple times each week and we’ve had 80% the same players for the six weeks of the competition.
“That’s helped us create consistency with our coaching, whereas with the B&I Cup, the squad was chopping and changing and the two-week blocks broke it up a bit, so this new competition has allowed us to work on getting the players better.”
Following the success of the competition, Chapron is keen to see more games given to the A team, with opportunities to take on English or Scottish opposition as well as the Welsh and Irish, possible in future.
“I don’t think we could play much more than we have up to now, obviously with the Autumn internationals coming up and looking forwards how the season will be structured with the Rugby World Cup, but a second block of fixtures would be good for these boys. You could look at any time outside of internationals to fit that in,” he added.
“We’d like to challenge ourselves against some English sides too, it just depends on what Bernard’s squad looks like and where we are from a regional point of view.”