DRAGONS coach Hendre Marnitz praised the spirit shown by his inexperienced side in Northampton and challenged them to stay on an upward curve against the Scarlets in Friday's long-awaited return to Newport.

The Rodney Parade region started their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign with a 41-7 loss at Franklin's Gardens but Saturday's score didn't reflect the tenacity shown by a youthful side guided by a handful of senior figures.

The Saints played more of their first-teamers ahead of their return to Aviva Premiership action against Newcastle on Friday and ran in six tries to a solitary effort by on-loan Ospreys centre Joe Thomas.

However, the Dragons' display ensured Marnitz was far happier than he was after the previous week's 49-6 hammering at Munster in the Guinness PRO14.

"It was a very spirited effort by our boys," he said. "We are a young team and came up against a close to full strength Northampton, now they know that against the best teams in the business you cannot afford to switch off and have soft moments.

"Take away a couple of gifts tries – an interception, one after we had just stolen a lineout and gave it immediately back – and we were very good.

"Our big focus is to learn and stop giving away gifts because teams at this level usually turn them into seven points.

"I would say 41-7 was not a true reflection of the game but unfortunately with youth comes little mistakes that a good team like Northampton will hurt you from.

"But there were loads of positive and it was a massive improvement from Munster, plus a load of our younger players now know what it's like to play at a higher level against a quality outfit."

The Dragons entertain the Scarlets in the development competition on Friday evening in their first home game since September 30.

That victory over Southern Kings has been followed by trips to Cardiff, Newcastle, Moscow, Swansea, Cork and Northampton.

Marnitz said: "We need to kick on against the Scarlets and take some momentum into the PRO14 – it's nice to finally play at home, it's felt like we are a team that only plays on the road!

"We asked the players to step up from Munster against Northampton and they did by really getting stuck into them. Now the youngsters need to grow from that performance."

Wing Ashton Hewitt, captaining the Dragons for the first time, came off in the second half after a bang to the shoulder but it is hoped that it was just a minor knock.