THE Dragons will hope that the return of some seasoned campaigners can help shore up their leaky defence for this afternoon's Guinness PRO14 opener against free-scoring Leinster.

The Rodney Parade region endured a tricky time without the ball in a quartet of formidable pre-season encounters.

New defence coach Hendre Marnitz only arrived at the end of July so the South African has had precious little time to establish a new structure and habits.

It showed against four Champions Cup teams with Montpellier, Northampton, Exeter and Glasgow racking up a combined tally of 201 points.

The Warriors ran away with things in Ebbw Vale last weekend but new head coach Bernard Jackman will hope the return of inside centre Jack Dixon, fly-half Gavin Henson, captain and lock Cory Hill and number eight Harri Keddie will give his side a more rugged look.

"We've played some tough games in pre-season," said backs coach Shaun Connor. "The easiest thing for us to do would have been to play lesser opposition but we wanted to test ourselves against the best to see where we are.

"We know that we have come out of those games with work-ons but hopefully we will have fixed some of them this week and we will see the fruits against Leinster.

"Apart from Montpellier, we have been in the games up to 45/50 minutes and we made lots of changes at that point to give players minutes in their legs.

"This week it's the best 23 available and if we do bring players off the bench then they will have a positive impact rather than negative.

"Pre-season is about getting the knocks and getting used to the bumps. There has definitely been a different feel in the camp this week."

The Dragons will need to be on their game against a Leinster side that romped to a 54-22 success when they headed to Rodney Parade in February.

Leo Cullen may be without a glut of Ireland stars – notably the Lions contingent of Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Sean O'Brien along with Jamie Heaslip and Garry Ringrose – but can still field a formidable side.

Australia international Scott Fardy makes his debut from the second row and forms a daunting tight five with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent and Devin Toner.

Isa Nacewa captains the side from centre with Ireland full-back Rob Kearney enjoying a first outing since January.

"They probably have 35 to 40 players who are all good enough to play for their first team. Whatever team they field is strong," said Connor.

"They have a big set piece, they are very good in the contact area and if you play a wide game they challenge you, so we have to look after the ball.

"As with all Irish teams, they play a lot of cross-field kicks and back their high-ball skills."

As the Argus revealed this week, Brok Harris starts as a loosehead after moving across the scrum to give Leon Brown the chance to establish himself at tighthead.

Prop Luke Garrett, who spent last season on loan at the title-winning Scarlets, is among the replacements and is joined on the bench by potential debutants Max Williams and Jared Rosser.

Tavis Knoyle, who hasn't played in pre-season while returning from a wrist injury, is the back-up scrum-half because Sarel Pretorius has a tight calf.

The Dragons field just 10 players who were involved in last term's eight-try thrashing at the hands of the Dubliners - centres Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon, scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, hookers Elliot Dee and Rhys Buckley, props Harris and Lloyd Fairbrother, lock Rynard Landman and Matthew Screech and fly-half Angus O'Brien.

Dragons: Z Kirchner, A Hewitt, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos, G Henson, C Davies, B Harris, E Dee, L Brown, M Screech, C Hill, J Thomas, J Benjamin, H Keddie. Replacements: R Buckley, L Garrett, L Fairbrother, R Landman, M Williams, T Knoyle, A O'Brien, J Rosser.

Leinster: R Kearney, A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, I Nacewa (captain), J Larmour, R Byrne, J Gibson-Park, C Healy, S Cronin, M Bent, D Toner, S Fardy, D Leavy, J van der Flier, M Deegan. Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, J Ryan, J Conan, N McCarthy, C Marsh, B Daly.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)