Gavin Henson has revealed he’s starting the season with the Dragons on the bench but is determined to force his way into Bernard Jackman’s first team.
The veteran Wales star, twice a Six Nations Grand Slam kingpin, joined the Gwent region last season and made 15 appearances.
But he was dropped following the Boxing Day defeat to Cardiff Blues and only started once more, against Bordeaux-Begles in the European Challenge Cup, despite the Dragons having the worst season in their 15-year history with only South African side Southern Kings finishing below them in the Guinness PRO14 standings.
A training injury later put the 36-year-old centre, outside-half or full-back out of the rest of a dismal campaign.
And Henson has been told by coach Jackman, the former Ireland and Leinster hooker, he is down the pecking order and will be a substitute during Saturday’s opening friendly, against English Championship club Ealing Trailfinders in London.
“It’s a little bit different now because I’m getting a bit older and they have recruited well,” said Henson, who will be 37 next February.
“I think I have got to take a little bit of a back-seat to start, to see if those boys take their chance.
“I’m covering 10, 12 and 15, wherever they need me, but, hopefully I can force my way in the team. When I get my chance I have got to take it and put pressure on the other boys.
“Obviously the management is under pressure because of how we finished last year so we need wins. This year is going to be much more serious.
“There’s going to be no messing around – Bernard is probably going to pick his strongest team every week.
“That’s what we want as players and hopefully I will get in that. At the moment, with the way pre-season is, my goal is to try and get that starting spot and be first choice, which is going to be tough. But it’s a nice challenge for me.”
The former Ospreys ace, who has also had stints with Saracens, Toulon, Cardiff Blues, Bath and Bristol, outlined his desire to extend his professional rugby career beyond this season.
“For the last however many years I have always treated it as my last. I would love to go one more year professionally. That’s a big drive for me this year to get that next year,” Henson went on.
“I’m hoping to get another one but there’s a lot to do yet. I’m always looking for perfection, even at my age.
“I’m still dreaming of that perfect game, that’s what keeps my drive in training. As soon as I lose that I will finish.
“But I still want to try and do PBs (personal best) every day – I have done a couple this week so it’s good.
“I feel under pressure because I want to keep playing but I like that, it’s what keeps you on the edge, on your toes.
“I’ve got a couple of boys in front of me but I’m pushing to get in front of them!
“The standard of training has gone up but it all counts on game day. We all know we are under pressure straight away – we need to win, even these pre-season games to change the perspective on us.
“Last season wasn’t great, personally and on the whole, but I think we learnt a lot from it and obviously Bernard was trying to find out about a few boys, and he’s done that.
“I think the management held their hands up, they probably over-trained us a little bit, but that was down to trying to find out who he wanted here.
“So we had to pay the price for that a little bit, especially performance-wise individually on game days.
“Now he’s brought in the players he wants. They’re all super talented and they have been around a bit as well.
“Hopefully they can make a home here, make an impact straight off and get us up that league.
“Training is a lot different now with the new system, the way we play in attack, which I think suits me personally and all the players he has brought in.
“It (previous system) probably didn’t suit me or as a group last season, which is probably why we didn’t get the results.
“That’s all changed now and I think you’ll see a difference. We’re excited and really confident.
“Our structure is very attacking. The options are there for us to make the right decisions. It’s key decision-making within a game and I think we have got the right boys now to make the right decisions.
“The way the system is set up it’s going to be good, exciting to watch. We’ll be physical too,” pledged Henson.
He plans on taking his WRU level one and two coaching badges this season as he looks at his options after he calls time on his playing days.
“I think coaching is something I want to go into,” said Henson. “I have been under a lot of coaches so I kind of feel I know what the best way is but I have got to do my levels first and maybe I’ll learn a bit through that.
“Naturally, I’d coach as I train, as I play with the boys, more a one on one. I think I can break down skills really well and teach boys how to do them properly so maybe that would be a strength of mine.”