Gustafson relishing front row challenge
BAYONNE v DRAGONS (Tonight, KO 7.45)
HUGH Gustafson knows from experience how tough the front row tussle is against the French on their own patch, but tonight the Newport Gwent Dragons forward will battle Bayonne with a 2 on his back rather than a 1, writes Chris Kirwan.
The 25-year-old is in his first full season as a hooker after making the switch from loosehead prop.
He has done well – as shown by his 15 regional appearances to date – but this evening will be a real test of his progress.
Gustafson, who is still listed as a prop on the Dragons’ website, will be in the middle of the front row against Bayonne at the Stade Jean Dauger and he has a point to prove.
It is five games since the former Wales Under-20s prop has started and he has been kicking his heels on the sidelines while Sam Parry has been preferred, something Gustafson is determined to change.
“Both me and Sam are very competitive,” he said.
“He has had the last five starts but I am not here to share the jersey, I want it to be mine.”
Which will need a strong set piece performance in the south of France, traditionally a heartland of strong scrummaging.
“It’s nothing new for me,” said Gustafson. “I’ve played in France as a prop and I know how important it is to win my one-on-one battle.
“The game is always won and lost up front and if we lie down and have our bellies rubbed by them they will win the game comfortably. We want to go out there and throw everything at them.”
Whatever happens, Gustafson vows to learn from the experience as he gets to grips with life as a hooker.
“I am proud of what I have achieved in a year,” he said.
“I learnt my trade at Pontypool and Bedwas, at times it has been tough but I have enjoyed it.
“I have given it my best shot and feel that I have come through but you are never the finished article and I will be learning for the rest of my career.”
l The Dragons have registered Wales Under-20s hooker Elliott Dee in their European squad as a replacement for Steve Jones, who is currently out with a bicep injury.
Dee, 18, will act as cover in case Parry or Gustafson is unavailable for their final Amlin Challenge Cup game against group winners elect Wasps at Rodney Parade next Thursday.