DRAGONS V LONDON IRISH (Tonight, KO 7.30)
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards has demanded that his charges toughen up in their final warm-up for the RaboDirect Pro12 season.
The Dragons aim to avoid a third pre-season defeat on the spin when they host London Irish at Rodney Parade this evening.
They suffered a shock loss to a Gwent Select XV before being thrashed 40-3 by Biarritz in the heat of southern France.
Tries by former Parade favourite Aled Brew (2), Eugene van Staden, Yann Lesgourges, Raphael Lakafia and Takudzwa Ngwenya made it an evening to forget but it was the manner of the scores that concerned Edwards.
The head coach is demanding that Irish are not given as many soft points as the countdown continues to the August 31 Pro12 showdown with Zebre.
“The biggest disappointment was that four of Biarritz’s six tries came from clean line breaks from the set piece,” said Edwards.
“If a team breaks you down with a multiple-phase attack and good play then you have to accept it, but not first phase play.
“It was down to new combinations and system errors. That can happen at this time of pre-season but we cannot accept it against Zebre in two weeks’ time.
“Hopefully we’ve identified those areas and will put things right against London Irish. I don’t want us to be giving away soft tries and I want us to look a tough team.
“I know that people like to see results but it is about peaking for the season opener. Testing ourselves against a top European team like Biarritz was a valuable exercise and there were some pleasing aspects.
“The attitude and focus in the tackle area, something we have worked hard on, was excellent and we turned them over 12 times.
“The games against the Gwent Select and Biarritz came after we had stressed our squad with very hard, physical training.
“But I want an intense performance this evening. The training is tapering off so the fatigue levels are dropping and I want a display that gives a picture of what is to come.”
The Dragons will give another opportunity for Bedwas wing/centre Ross Wardle to impress off the bench this evening.
The 21-year-old student will not get a professional contract yet but he could well earn one, along with “If he stands out this season and does key things that we ask of him then he has a great chance to get a deal here,” said Edwards.
“Ross came off the bench in Biarritz and really impressed on the wing, you want to see X factor moments from players and he provided three or four of those.
“He was on a field with Ngwenya, Yachvili and Balshaw but was running around as though he wanted to take on the world, in fact he turned Ngwenya over twice.
“It’s pleasing that the process of inviting him in to train with us in pre-season, then watching him in the Gwent Select XV and inviting him to Biarritz has worked. We have done our homework on Ross and now we’ll see how he progresses from here.”