Dragons hooker hoping for an Italian Job repeat

99 NOT OUT: Dragons hooker Hugh Gustafson knows what it takes to win in Treviso

99 NOT OUT: Dragons hooker Hugh Gustafson knows what it takes to win in Treviso

First published in Sport South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

TREVISO v DRAGONS (Saturday, KO 2pm)

THOSE were days – the Newport Gwent Dragons were playing in the Heineken Cup, they were winning away in Treviso and Rhys Thomas and Rhodri Gomer Davies were getting up to some high jinks off the field.

Step back in time to December 2007 when a young Hugh Gustafson, making his way as a young prop, was also a part of that 35-33 thriller.

Five years on and the former loosehead, still only 25, is just one game short of his 100th regional appearance as he enjoys a new lease of life as a hooker.

After an uncertain start to the season in his new position – veteran Steve Jones has been in pole position as hooker – ex-Scarlets man Gustafson has excelled in the No 2 shirt recently with solid displays in the narrow defeat to Northampton and last week’s win over Connacht.

Although he’s experienced that winning feeling before against Treviso in Italy, Gustafson admits coming away with a victory is always difficult.

“I’ve won there before with Rhys Thomas and Colin Charvis but it’s certainly not an easy place to go,” he said. Treviso were pipped at the post 16-15 by Ulster in the league last week and have already taken the scalps of the Ospreys and Scarlets at home this season.

“Treviso have got a great squad that make up most of the Italy team and they’ve beaten a few good sides out there and pushed Toulouse close in the Heineken Cup,” Gustafson said.

“Whatever side they play against us – because they’ve got Leicester the week after in Europe – it’s going to be a big front five and a mobile back row and we know it’ll be a huge challenge.

“They’ve also got attacking threats like Brendan Williams at full back and other dangerous players.”

But Gustafson underlined how important last Friday night’s 14-3 triumph over Connacht was for the Dragons who stopped the rot after seven successive defeats.

“That was a massive win and you could tell on the night we were a bit edgy,” he said.

Referring to some narrow defeats – the 22-19 setback against Bayonne in the Amlin Challenge Cup perhaps the most relevant – he added: “We knew there were some games we shouldn’t have lost.

“We also knew we were improving during the LV Cup with some players coming through and that improvement come across in the victory over Connacht.”

One his switch from loosehead to hooker, Gustafson said: “I’ve needed to do a lot of practice and it has been stressful for almost a year since I made the switch.

“I have enjoyed – it has been a challenge but I’ve accepted the challenge and I think I’ve done all right so far.

“Before the LV Cup games this season I’d only played a handful of games in the Premiership and for the Dragons against Gwent Select.

“But I kept my place for Connacht so I think I’ve grown into it the position.”

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