NEWPORT Gwent Dragons can get their European campaign off to a winning start but they will have to “tackle to a standstill” to taste success at London Wasps according to a man with a foot in both camps.
The Dragons take a break from their RaboDirect Pro12 struggles when they head to High Wycombe in the Amlin Challenge Cup on Saturday evening.
If they can stun the Aviva Premiership outfit on their own patch – as they did in the LV= Cup last season – then it will give them a golden chance of qualification from Pool Three, which also includes Bayonne and Italian minnows Mogliano.
But they will need to improve dramatically on their performance in defeat to the Scarlets in Llanelli last Friday.
Wasps are hardly pulling up trees themselves in the league but boast an impressive squad.
They possess a strong front five spearheaded by young England tyro Joe Launchbury that is capable of providing a steady stream of possession for dangerous game breakers like James Haskell, Billy Vunipola, Christian Wade and Tom Varndell.
The double Heineken Cup winners escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth last term and recorded just their second win of the current campaign on Sunday when they edged out Worcester 10-6.
That could easily have been another defeat – the visitors were left to rue a cruel bounce of the ball that denied them a late winner – but the English outfit have quality in their ranks, as Paul Turner will testify.
The former Dragons supremo spent last season as attack coach at Adams Park after being brought in on a one-year deal by former Cardiff Blues chief Dai Young.
“Wasps are a different squad to last season, which was a nightmare for us with injuries and retirements,” said former Wales fly-half Turner, who is now running a coaching business that trains talented youngsters at schools and clubs in the south east of England.
“They’ve got much more strength in depth, something that’s needed in the Aviva Premiership, and have brought in some quality players.
“James Haskell and Tom Palmer have proven international pedigree while Rhys Thomas (the ex-Cardiff Blues and Wales hooker) gives them real steel up front.
“Wasps have finishers in their side that will have a major say and their aim will be to provide quick ball for their dangerous runners.
“I’d imagine that the Dragons will have to make over 130 tackles on Saturday.
“If they are to win then they must tackle to a standstill and use the possession that they get wisely.
“The conditions were terrible against the Scarlets last week but I’d still feel they kicked a lot of ball away and lacked a bit of creativity in midfield.
“But it’s a good track at Adams Park and the Dragons have got to be bold on Saturday, to take it to Wasps and play attacking rugby. Do that and they can get the win.”
The nature of the Amlin Challenge Cup means that there is little margin for error, particularly in home games.
Wasps captain Hugo Southwell acknowledges that his charges will be feeling the heat on Saturday evening.
“It’s not an easy first clash for us but in this tournament there aren’t many second chances,” said the Scotland international.
“You’ve got to win your home games and go away and do well to give yourself any chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages.”