DEFENCE coach Hendre Marnitz has warned the Dragons players that they can ill afford to waste another opportunity to shine in Northampton this evening.

The Rodney Parade region start their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign against the Saints (kick-off 5.15pm) on the back of a humiliating defeat to Munster in the Guinness PRO14.

The Irish province ran in seven tries in a one-side romp in Cork against a Dragons team that barely fired a shot.

The management team, led by Marnitz this week while head coach Bernard Jackman concentrates on recruitment and off-field matters, have retained 17 of the 23 from Munster.

“The boys know that we let ourselves down, those that had an opportunity didn’t take it,” said the South African.

“We had some big players away with Wales and lots unavailable, and those that got an opportunity need to realise they might not get one again.

“The game of rugby is simple – when you get a chance you have got to take it. If you don’t then someone else will step up.

“The Anglo-Welsh Cup is a nice opportunity to express ourselves, it doesn’t have the pressure of the PRO14.

“We want the players to put themselves out there and Franklin’s Gardens is a great place for the youngsters to spread their wings and fly.”

The Dragons are hindered by a lengthy injury list and four senior Wales call-ups and three Wales sevens selections.

The development competition also provides the chance to rest key figures Gavin Henson, Sarel Pretorius and James Benjamin and a lot of expectation will be on a smattering of experienced campaigners, such as captain and wing Ashton Hewitt, lock Rynard Landman and scrum-half Charlie Davies, to lead the way.

“Northampton will be a massive challenge for us and we are blooding some youngsters,” said Marnitz.

“We are under no illusions about this and know it won’t be easy but we are looking for an improved performance.

“The boys knew that we weren’t nearly good enough and you have to be firing at 100 per cent just to survive at Munster. On the day we were a little bit cold.”

The Saints ran in 11 tries when the sides met in pre-season in the East Midlands, exploiting weary Welsh legs.

While the Aviva Premiership side used their entire squad, the Dragons split theirs up after playing Montpellier the previous night. It showed as Northampton stretched away from 26-21 on 50 minutes to 71-21 at full-time.

Marnitz is confident the Dragons are in better shape without the ball than they were in August.

“Look at the Cardiff Blues and Ospreys games and we were outstanding defensively and really stuck in there,” he said. “The scores weren’t reflection of how tight the games were.

“System wise and principle wise we are getting so much closer to where we want to be in defence.”