NEWPORT Gwent Dragons wanted a stern pre-season test ahead of their Guinness Pro12 opener in Galway but the news that filtered through from Northampton just after midday yesterday may have prompted a few gulps.
The Saints have opted against wrapping their big guns in cotton wool ahead of their Aviva Premiership opener against Gloucester next Friday.
George North, Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Luther Burrell, Ben Foden, Samu Manoa, the Pisi brothers; the world leaders are heading for Newport for the Nato summit next week and tonight some of rugby’s biggest figures are bound for Ebbw Vale.
The Dragons have enjoyed a pair of pre-season wins against a Bristol side devoid of some of their stars and part-timers Lydney.
They wanted to go up a few levels in their final friendly before the Pro12 clash against Connacht and that’s what they must do courtesy of Saints boss Jim Mallinder’s selection.
There are plenty of dangerous runners in the visiting line-up yet it is how the Dragons, traditionally bullied in the tight five, fare against their power game that will be most intriguing.
“Northampton have one of the top six scrums in Europe and one of the top six driving lineouts,” said Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones.
“We are testing ourselves against the best and that’s exactly what we need ahead of the season.
“It’s a big challenge and will give us an indication of where we stand. Northampton will highlight some deficiencies in our game but hopefully not too many as we build towards Connacht.”
It promises to be a terrific occasion at Eugene Cross Park; 2,000 tickets have been sold and it will be a disappointment if Northampton’s stars don’t significantly add to the gate.
The fixture is being played in Ebbw Vale because Gwent Police have hired Rodney Parade as a security base for the Nato summit, presenting Jones with the chance to go back to the club that he captained.
“It’s great to be going back and I have a lot of fond memories of Ebbw Vale,” said the former flanker, who played for the Steelmen between 1995 and 1998, leading them to the Swalec Cup final at Ashton Gate in his final season.
“I’m from just over the top at Nantyglo and used to walk over with my grandfather, so it’s terrific that the people of that area have the chance to see us take on a quality side like Northampton.”
Taulupe Faletau will also get the chance to run out on his dad Kuli’s former stomping ground.
The Wales and Lions number eight has been allocated to Ebbw for the coming campaign and while it’s highly unlikely he will play for the Steelmen he will start at Eugene Cross Park for the Dragons this evening.
The Dragons have named an extended squad but director of rugby Lyn Jones has said he will not be making a raft of substitutions throughout the game.
Dragons: L Byrne, G R Jones, T Prydie, M Pewtner, P Leach, T Morgan, J Dixon, B Nightingale, A Brew, J Tovey, A O’Brien, D Jones, J Evans, R Rees, B Stankovich, O Evans, E Dee, R Thomas, L Fairbrother, D Way, D Young, R Landman, I Gough, M Screech, C Hill, A Coombs, L Evans, N Cudd, S Matthews, A Powell, J Thomas, T Faletau.
Northampton: B Foden, K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell, G North, W Hooley, L Dickson, A Corbisiero, D Hartley (captain), S Ma’afu, C Lawes, C Day, C Clark, T Wood, S Manoa. Replacements: R McMillan, A Waller, G Denman, J Craig, C Dolan, T Harrison, J Fisher, J Fotual’i, J Wilson, D Waldouck, J Elliott, H Packman, J Skelcey, S Olver.
Tickets are available at the main entrance to Eugene Cross Park, costing £10 for adults, but turnstiles are cash-only.