Newport-Gwent Dragons head coach Darren Edwards insists his side will not underestimate RaboDirect PRO12 new-boys Zebre in their opening game of the season on Friday, pointing out that the Italian franchise are better stocked with internationals names than his own squad.
The Dragons finished ninth last season but have lost a small battalion of star players over the summer as the likes of Martyn Thomas, Aled Brew, Jason Tovey and Luke Charteris have all headed for pastures new.
While Edwards has brought in new, young players with international experience like wing Tom Prydie and full-back Dan Evans they stand in the shadows of some of Zebre’s names, many of whom have joined from the now defunct franchise Aironi.
Winger Giovanbattista Venditti, fly-half Luciano Orquera, prop Salvatore Perugini and lock Quintin Geldenhuys are all in line to start at Rodney Parade but captain Marco Bortolami and flanker Mauro Bergamasco will miss out through injury.
“Zebre is a team with more internationals than the Dragons and a great deal of experience in the side,” said Edwards.
“They have a very good support structure around them and are heavily supported by the Italian Federation so they are definitely a stronger side than many would give them credit for.”
“Playing the unknown does cause problems but it also enables us to focus on ourselves and our own game.”
In pre-season the Dragons’ game certainly looked to be coming good as they bounced back from a heavy loss to Biarritz by beating English Premiership side London Irish 18-12 at home.
Fly-half Steffan Jones and centre Adam Hughes got the tries while Prydie kicked eight points and Edwards has asked his players to maintain that focus to ensure they start the season with a bang.
“It’s what we’ve done through this pre-season – especially leading into the London Irish game – we didn’t know how they would play but we focused on our own game and produced a strong performance and a great result,” he added.