SEAN Holley has called on the Wales internationals to drive serious progress for the Dragons – with Sunday’s derby opener against the Ospreys presenting the perfect chance to lay down a marker.

The United Rugby Championship gets under way on Friday night and two days later Dean Ryan’s men kick off at Rodney Parade.

The Dragons, traditionally Wales’ worst region, host an Ospreys side tipped by many to lead the Welsh charge in the new-look tournament.

It is the third season with Dean Ryan in the Rodney Parade hotseat but in 2020/21 they paid the price for a poor start to the PRO14.

They finished strongly during the Six Nations for a final record of six wins from 16 games and the challenge is to hit those levels if they are to be in the conversation for the top eight and the URC play-offs.

The Dragons may not have the depth of their rivals but can field a side packed with international talent, with Wales lock Will Rowlands, Fiji tighthead Mesake Doge and Samoa loosehead Aki Seiuli signed to bolster the tight five.

South Wales Argus: HOPEFUL: Sean Holley believes the Dragons can make strides (Picture: Sean Holley believes the Dragons can make strides (Picture:

“It would be nice if we saw the Dragons push on this year. There is still a bit of naivety in that side and to me Dean looks a little bit frustrated, expecting them to be a little bit further along than they are,” said Premier Sports pundit Holley.

“They are definitely improving but now it’s down to Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty and the other experienced boys in there to start really pushing them forward.

“All of us are a little bit tired of saying that they are getting better, we need to see it now and this is the season for them to do it with good Welsh players.

“It’s a great start for them – catch the Ospreys now and go at them, get a good start to the season and kick on.”

Holley knows from experience that Rodney Parade can be a difficult place to go.

The Ospreys often came up short in their ‘Galacticos’ era, although they did triumph 28-20 in Newport last year.

“It was always a really difficult place to go, even if we went full whack [with all the internationals],” said Holley, who won five trophies with the Swansea-based club.

“I was recently looking back at the Matthew J Watkins try when the Dragons won that game and our side had them all – Tommy Bowe, Jerry Collins, Shane Williams, Lee Byrne.

“It just goes to show that places like Rodney Parade, packed out, can make it really difficult for you. It’s not necessarily won on the teamsheet.”

The Ospreys are set to be without Lions Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Beard plus long-term injury victims Justin Tipuric, George North and Dan Lydiate.

Wales internationals Elliot Dee and Leon Brown have not featured in pre-season for the Dragons because of injury.

The top eight qualify for the play-offs in the 18-game regular season while there is a Welsh group with the winners automatically earning Champions Cup rugby for 2022/23.

All 151 games of the URC are on Premier Sports with Sunday’s derby exclusively on the channel.

South Wales Argus: Premier Sports' team of Welsh commentators, pundits and reporters. Philippa Tuttiett, Shane Williams, Sean Holley, Ross Harries, Eddie Butler, Tom Shanklin, Lauren Jenkins and Rhys Ap WilliamPremier Sports' team of Welsh commentators, pundits and reporters. Philippa Tuttiett, Shane Williams, Sean Holley, Ross Harries, Eddie Butler, Tom Shanklin, Lauren Jenkins and Rhys Ap William

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