Dragons must be up for breakdown battle
AFTER being bullied at the breakdown by a Sam Warburton-inspired Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons have been told they must up their game when they take on a side known for being cunning at the contact area.
The Dragons are still smarting after seeing the Blues, who were woeful but not as woeful as their hosts, take the spoils 16-5 at Rodney Parade last Saturday. It was a drab encounter that was dominated by errors and the whistle of referee Neil Hennessy, who was infuriatingly inconsistent at the breakdown.
The Blues, with Warburton and fellow flanker Josh Navidi to the fore, won that battle and the Dragons know it’s area that must be targeted on Saturday.
They travel to Limerick to take on Munster – a side they haven’t beaten on their own turf since the first season of regional rugby.
“Munster are renowned for their skills on the floor and it’s a massive challenge for us but we have to look at it as a great opportunity,” said centre Ashley Smith.
“Last weekend was a massive disappointment and when we gathered in the huddle afterwards we said that the standards were not good enough.
“We didn’t put the Blues under pressure through the phases, we let them off the hook and they turned us over too much.
“It was a massively frustrating performance, we let our fans down and didn’t put into practice what we had done in the build-up.
“But we have started afresh and looking forward to the Munster game now because we know that we have to be much, much better.” Smith came off the bench at half-time against the Blues when in-form centre Andy Tuilagi was forced off by a calf problem.
The 25-year-old, who was troubled by a tight hamstring in pre-season, has been among the replacements for all three of the Dragons’ RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures so far but has his fingers crossed for getting the nod at Thomond Park.
He said: “Andy and Pat (Leach) have been excellent in midfield, in fact the whole back line have been in good form and that’s why they’ve been selected for every game.
“You can understand them staying in and the rest of us just have to bide our time and take the opportunity when it comes.
“Hopefully I’ll be playing at Munster and I can get a bit more game time, but hopefully it won’t be down to Andy being injured.”
Injuries suffered by centre Andy Tuilagi (calf) and hookers Steve Jones (calf) and Hugh Gustafson (ankle) will be assessed further this morning.
Early indications are that they are not serious and the squad received a boost yesterday when winger Tonderai Chavhanga took part in his first contact session since his summer knee operation.
* There will be a minute’s silence at all RaboDirect Pro12 games in memory of Ulster centre Nevin Spence, who died in a farming accident on Saturday night along with his 30-year-old brother, Graham, who was married with two children, and their 52-year-old father, Noel.
Ulster’s fixture against Zebre in Parma on Friday has been postponed.