The Newport Gwent Dragons (Welsh: Dreigiau Casnewydd Gwent) are a Rugby Union team from Wales. They play in the Magners League, as well as competing in the EDF Energy Cup and, in 2006-07, the European Challenge Cup. The 2007-08 season will see the Dragons return to the Heineken Cup.
The club came into being in the summer of 2003 when the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) controversially elected to reduce the current top tier of Welsh professional rugby from nine clubs into five regions, attempting to mirror the successful formats in Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere countries of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Newport Gwent Dragons officially represent southeast Wales, and play all of their matches at Rodney Parade, situated in the city of Newport, although friendly (pre-season) games have been played at a number of other grounds around a region that includes well-known club sides such as Pontypool RFC, Newbridge RFC and Abertillery RFC.
Largely drawn from the Newport RFC and Ebbw Vale RFC sides of the preceding year, Newport Gwent Dragons were considered one of the weaker regions in the Welsh game, although their coach Mike Ruddock was considered one of the best. However, this in a way worked for them as they were disrupted less than other regions by missing players during the 2003 World Cup. A creditable third place finish in the Celtic League was the result, impressing WRU bosses enough for Ruddock to be offered the vacant Welsh coaching job in the summer of 2004.
In their second season of existence they finished in 4th place in the Celtic League and in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup. In 2006, after finishing 8th in the Celtic League, The Newport-Gwent Dragons had to beat Overmach Parma in a play-off to qualify for the Heineken Cup. It was expected that, despite several injuries to various players, the Newport Gwent Dragons would cruise to victory. However, after a poor performance from the Newport Gwent Dragons, Parma won the match 24-15 denying the Dragons a place in the Heineken Cup.
The 2006-07 Magners League season has seen the Dragons improve, both off the pitch, where attendances have increased, on the pitch, with new players such as Joe Bearman (from Cornish Pirates), Colin Charvis (from Newcastle Falcons) and Aled Brew (on loan for one season from the Ospreys and now returned for the 2007-08 Magners League). New backroom staff, such as video analyst Will Precious were also recruited. The teams primary sponsor is currently Finning, with Celtic Energy being the secondary sponsor. The season finished with the Newport Gwent Dragons having a good run in the European Challenge Cup, losing to ASM Clermont Auvergne in the semi-final, 46-29. This was not reflected in other competitions where they finished 3rd from bottom in the Magners League and joint bottom in their EDF Energy Cup group. However, they did qualify for the Heineken Cup by beating Calvisano in their playoff at Rodney Parade, 22-15 on the 18th May, 2007.
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.