NEWPORT Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards admits that he has some tough selection calls to run over in his mind before the start of the RaboDirect Pro12 campaign.
The Dragons kick off against new Italian franchise Zebre at Rodney Parade next Friday.
They will do so on the back of a well-deserved 18-12 win against London Irish last week when they outscored the Aviva Premiership outfit two tries to none.
But it was the manner of the success that will have pleased the Dragons coaching staff after a number of players providing them with some dilemmas:
- Do they give the nod to Darren Waters at openside rather than captain Lewis Evans in light of his excellent pre-season form?
- Does last year’s star performer Rob Sidoli, or Adam Jones for that matter, get back in despite the promising second-row partnership between Andrew Coombs and Ian Nimmo?
- Which young pretender, Steffan Jones or Lewis Robling, do they go with at fly-half?
- Has Phil Price earned the start at loosehead after playing second fiddle to Nathan Williams for much of last term?
The coaching staff have some decisions to make but Edwards is keen to stress that each and every member of his squad will play their part over the coming months.
“We don’t have the biggest squad and it will be crucial that we keep all of our players in good form throughout the campaign,” he said.
“Rugby is a squad game and we are not going to use the same starting 15 week in, week out.
“The London Irish result and more importantly the performance was very pleasing, and when you think of some of the players that didn’t play it’s clear that we will have some real competition.
“It’s nice to have those dilemmas ahead of Zebre... but everyone will get plenty of rugby this season.”
The most pleasing aspect of last week’s success was that the Dragons prevented Irish from crossing their whitewash. In fact, the side from Reading barely got into their 22.
Given that seven days earlier Biarritz had darted over for six tries in a 40-3 romp the progression was obvious, albeit against weaker opposition.
“We’ve shown that we are on the right path, and to not concede a try and score two ourselves with a pair of good finishes was very pleasing,” said Edwards.
“There was a real step up in intensity and our defensive line speed was excellent.
“Pre-season is all about challenging yourself; our defence wasn’t challenged a great deal by the Gwent Select XV in our first friendly (a 16-10 loss) but it certainly was by Biarritz in extremely tough conditions.
“To come into the third game and have a clean sheet shows that we have got our planning right.
“There was certainly a step up in gears from the first game and that’s what it’s all about, we aim to peak in two weeks’ time.”
The negatives from Friday’s win against the Irish came in the shape of hamstring injuries suffered by centre Adam Hughes and wing Matthew Pewtner.
They will be assessed today but flanker Waters is fine despite limping from the field with a leg injury at the end of the first half.