Dragons aim to exert pressure through defence
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons intend to keep piling on the pressure in defence when they get their RaboDirect Pro12 campaign under way against Zebre next weekend.
The region responded to their 40-3 horror show in Biarritz by preventing London Irish from crossing the whitewash in their final pre-season warm-up eight days ago.
The Aviva Premiership outfit fielded plenty of dangerous runners in their backs, notably Samoan ace Sailosi Tagicakibau and bright England prospect Jonathan Joseph, but barely got a sniff of the Dragons line.
Assistant coach Rob Appleyard believes the clean sheet was the perfect preparation for their opener against the new Italian franchise at Rodney Parade on Friday, especially after the six-try humbling in the south of France.
“Biarritz was shocking,” he said. “We were soft, had poor line speed and were light in numbers in the rucks.
“It was unacceptable and the players were told that in no uncertain terms but they responded against Irish.
“We put them under massive pressure with our line speed, tackle technique, counter-rucking and work at the contact area.
“Irish like to play deep and if we had sat back and let them do that we would have been scrambling for the corners, but instead we got after them and forced them into errors.
“When they did make line breaks our safety net – the full-back, scrum-half and wings – snuffed out the danger.
“But by and large we didn’t allow London Irish to fire and we have now set the standards for Zebre.”
However, it wasn’t all good against Irish.
After deservedly leading 18-3 early in the second half they let their discipline slip and allowed their visitors to close to within a score at 18-12.
“We certainly gave away too many penalties in the second half,” admitted Appleyard.
“I don’t mind giving them away if it’s the right time and place with the purpose to put pressure on the opposition but we conceded too many in kicking range.
“Some of them were definitely avoidable and that has given us a valuable message that at times we need to be squeaky clean.
“Defence is the ugly part of the game and it’s all about taking it right to the line without stepping over it.
“We want to win ball in the contact area, we want to counter ruck and spoil the opposition’s ball but sometimes the referee sees it another way and it’s all about listening to them and playing accordingly.”