NEWPORT Gwent Dragons will be targeting a fast start to the RaboDirect Pro12 campaign after being handed a first game at home against new Italian franchise Zebre.
Last season the region played catch-up from the off after playing away from Rodney Parade in six of their first eight fixtures because of the construction of the Bisley Stand. They suffered defeat on all of those trips but in the upcoming campaign they have been handed a golden chance to start off on the right foot.
Not only do they host Zebre, who have taken the place of the now defunct Aironi, but they welcome Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh – both of whom they beat last term – to Rodney Parade in September.
With trips to Heineken Cup holders Leinster and fellow Irish big-hitters Munster sandwiched between those home encounters, the pressure will be on to produce the goods in front of the Dragons home faithful.
“If we do our job properly and win our home games then we will be in the mix from the off,” said head coach Darren Edwards.
“But nothing is easy in this league and in some ways Zebre is an uncomfortable game because we are going up against the unknown.
“There is a nice balance to the fixtures as opposed to last season when we were forced to play three away games in Ireland (Leinster, Munster and Connacht) in the first month.
“And playing a derby against Cardiff Blues gives us the chance to set the tone early on.
“Players will be going up against their Welsh rivals and we have always been told that the international management team keeps a close eye on those derby games.
“There are two really tough challenges with trips to the European champions and Munster but we should be served well by our pre-season.
“We will be going from an away friendly at Biarritz to a home one against London Irish. Not only are they both top quality sides but those games will prepare us for the travel aspect.”
The Ospreys will begin the defence of their title with a trip to Italy to face Treviso, the Scarlets start at home to Leinster and Cardiff Blues travel to Connacht.
The Dragons travel to the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues over the festive period while their trip west to Parc y Scarlets is in October with the return fixture in March.
Their first game of 2013 is against Connacht in Galway while the final round of games sees them head to the Scottish capital to take on Edinburgh. The exact dates for the fixtures will be confirmed once league officials meet with their broadcast partners.
Dragons’ Pro 12 fixtures
Weekend of 31-2: Dragons v Zebra
Weekend of 7-9: Leinster v Dragons; Weekend of 14-16: Dragons v Cardiff Blues; Weekend of 21-23: Munster v Dragons; Weekend of 28-30 Dragons v Edinburgh
Weekend of 5-7: Scarlets v DRAGONS; Weekend of 26-28: DRAGONS v Ulster
Weekend of 2-4: Glasgow v DRAGONS; Weekend of 23-25: DRAGONS v Connacht; Weekend of 30-2: Benetton Treviso v DRAGONS
Weekend of 21-23: DRAGONS v Ospreys; Weekend of 28-30: Cardiff Blues v DRAGONS
Weekend of 4-6: Connacht v DRAGONS
Weekend of 8-10 DRAGONS v Benetton Treviso; Weekend of 15-17: DRAGONS v Glasgow; Weekend of 22-24: Zebre v DRAGONS
Weekend of 1-3: DRAGONS v Leinster; Weekend of 22-24: Ospreys v DRAGONS; Weekend of 29-31: DRAGONS v Scarlets
Weekend of 12-14: Ulster v DRAGONS; Weekend of 19-21: DRAGONS v Munster
Weekend of 3-5: Edinburgh v DRAGONS
Weekend of 10-12: PLAYOFFS
Saturday 25: FINAL