ANDY Powell believes Newport Gwent Dragons have shown they can pack a punch in the Guinness Pro12 by going toe-to-toe with the English champions.
The Rodney Parade region kick off their campaign at Connacht on Saturday and they head to Galway with a spring in their step after a 27-25 pre-season win against Northampton.
They stunned the Saints with a pair of converted tries at the death after having to stand firm against one of the most powerful sides in European rugby.
Northampton started with 10 of the XV that beat Saracens in the Aviva Premiership final and boasted a side featuring Dylan Hartley, Alex Corbisiero, Courtney Lawes, Samu Manoa, Tom Wood, George North and Luther Burrell.
Visiting flanker Calum Clark's description of the Dragons as "a pretty physical side" will be music to the ears of Powell, who led the charge with a hard-hitting performance in attack and defence.
"The physicality of that game was right up there but we match a full-strength Northampton," said the former Wales and Lions number eight.
"We've got some big boys in our squad now, which perhaps there weren't last season, and we stood up to their power game.
"That gives us massive confidence and I wouldn't like to have to pick the starting XV for Connacht because so many players have shown their quality.
"That's exactly what we want after 13 weeks of hard work, graft and pain in pre-season."
The Dragons have beaten Bristol, Lydney and Northampton in pre-season but will have to conquer their travel sickness if they are to get their Pro12 campaign off to a flying start.
They have not won in Ireland since beating Ulster in Belfast in September 2008 while their first trip to Galway in May, 2004 provided their sole victory at the Sportsground.
Nonetheless, Powell believes a repeat of their spirited Saints display would see them make a huge statement in the West of Ireland.
"Winning friendlies doesn't count for anything but the Northampton game has given us a great boost," he said.
"If we play with the same determination and never-say-die attitude then we will give ourselves a great chance of starting with a win."