The Dragons’ Magners League Ambassador Luke Charteris insists his side won’t be content to mirror last season’s seventh-place finish this time out.
The Dragons won plenty of praise for their performances last term as they came within a whisker of a much-sought after Play-Off spot.
Charteris and co were many people’s success story of the 2009/10 campaign, picking up wins over each of the sides who finished in the top four.
Comfortable victories over Leinster, Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors were among the highlights of the Dragon’s most successful season in five years.
Not since the 2004/05 campaign had the Dragons finished higher than eighth, and few had predicted they would do so prior to the start of last season.
But while local and national media spoke highly of the Dragon’s achievements and head coach Paul Turner picked up the Magners League Coach of the Year Award, Charteris has a different take on things.
“There was a lot of talk in the press last year saying what a good year it was for us but, personally, I don’t think it was that great a year,” said Charteris, who has made 84 Magners League appearances for the Gwent region.
“We finished seventh and that’s not really a reflection of a good year.
“The fact that we finished above the Scarlets is not really where we should be aiming.
“That’s the message the coaches have been trying to put across as well. It was a building block and it was an improvement when you look at the year before but it’s certainly not where we’re aiming this year.
“We want to be in the top four. That has to be the minimum of where we’re aiming. If not, what’s the point?
“Settling for where we were last year is not where we want to be. It’s an ethos that the players, coaches and everyone around the squad is buying into.”
A win over Aironi was only the Dragons' second of the season
As things stand, the Dragons have a lot of hard work ahead of them if they are to achieve that ambitious target this season.
Turner’s men have endured a disappointing start to the new year, winning just two of their six Magners League games to date.
Last weekend’s bonus-point victory over Aironi could be the kick start their season needs but, if their aims of a top-four finish are to be realised, one thing in particular needs to change.
The Dragons’ away form has been their downfall in recent years.
Rodney Parade has become something of a fortress, with few teams enjoying much success at the historic venue in Newport. But while winning at home has become a habit, losing on the road has become even more deep rooted.
A single win and a draw in last season’s nine Magners League ties is nowhere Play-Off form, however good your home record is.
And with three defeats on their Magners League travels so far this season, Charteris is fully aware that the situation needs to be resolved, starting with Saturday’s trip to reigning champions the Ospreys.
But while outside sources may be looking for complex reasons as to why the Dragons have fared so poorly away from familiar surroundings, Charteris can find no real reason for the contrast in home and away form.
“A lot is made of this home and away thing – I think too much,” added Charteris.
“You’re still on the same size pitch and it’s still the same boys each week so it shouldn’t have that big an effect on us.
“I studied sports psychology in my degree course. It’s a psychological thing and there’s else nothing else that should be different about playing away from home. It shouldn’t have that big an impact.
“We need to get a win and put that to bed. If we start making too much of our ‘home fortress’ that almost makes it harder when we do go away.
“It’s something that we need to work on because one win and one draw away from home last year wasn’t good enough. We need to get better than that and there’s no reason we shouldn’t.”
The Dragons' only away win last season came at Edinburgh
Despite their current league placing of 11th, Charteris believes the Dragons are building a strong platform at the club.
The giant second row is impressed with the strength in depth at the region this term, an area in which he has seen major improvements since his debut back in the 2003/04 season.
And with the Play-Off system now a key part of Magners League rugby, Charteris knows that the Dragons still have plenty to play for in the coming months.
“I think it’s our strongest squad. I think that for the first time probably we’ve got strong competition in each position so the boys are getting pushed – that’s something we’ve never had before.
“I think the Play-Offs have gone down well with the players. It’s something to aim for.
“And with the fact that if you’re the bottom Welsh region you don’t automatically qualify for the Heineken Cup, there’s something to play for right until the end of the season.
“We missed out on the Play-Offs by not much more than one win last season so it just shows that if you can get a little bit of momentum, then you’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.”