NEWPORT Gwent Dra-gons’ European venture into the unknown became a little bit more mysterious last week.
The region knew plenty about their Pool Three Amlin Challenge Cup opponents Wasps and Bayonne but the same cannot be said about Rugby Mogliano, tomorrow afternoon’s foe at the Stadio Maurizio Quaggia.
And one of the few things that the Dragons DID know about was taken away at the end of November.
The Italians signed former Scarlets back row forward Mat Gilbert in the summer and the 27-year-old featured in their Amlin Challenge Cup hammerings against Bayonne and London Wasps.
But after just three months with the club he was snapped up by Bath to bolster their ranks for the Aviva Premier-ship campaign.
Now that Gilbert is gone there will be few, if any, names on their opposition’s teamsheet that are familiar.
Dragons head coach Darren Edwards said last season that their Challenge Cup encounter with Cavalieri Prato was “a venture into the unknown” and Mogliano is no different.
They will have seen some footage from their opener with Bayonne (a 71-7 defeat) and round two meeting with Wasps (a 59-12 loss).
Then there are the bare stats – Mogliano sit fifth in the Italian National Champ-ionship table (Cavalieri Prato are second) and have played eight, won five, lost three.
But the Dragons, who have stayed in Italy following last Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 loss to Treviso, have been warned to make sure they are fully focused come 1pm tomorrow (BST) because Mogliano are no mugs.
Matt Cornwell spearheaded the club’s successful bid for a spot in the Challenge Cup before heading back to his native Leicester in the summer.
And the fly-half/centre, who was nominated as one of the league’s most valuable players, believes the Dragons can ill afford to rock up expecting to coast to a bonus point win.
“Of course you’d expect the Dragons to win but you just never know,” said Cornwell, after politely pointing out the silent ‘g’ in Mogliano.
“Mogliano have nothing to lose and will be fired up for this game.
“It’s the club’s first time in the Challenge Cup after we finished in the top four last season and they will want to give a good account of themselves.
“The boys have jobs but they train pretty much every day from 4pm to 9pm and there are some quality players in the squad.
“Edoardo Candiago is an important player at either six or eight but I’d say the main threat up front is Meyer Swan-epoel, who came over from Natal Sharks – he is a big, tough South African who I certainly wouldn’t mess with!
“Behind there is Enrico Ceccarto at 13, who must be one of the most naturally gifted players that I’ve played with.
“I don’t know why nobody has picked him up because I think he should be playing for Italy.
“People have an image of how Italian teams play but they will chuck it around a lot and will really test out defences.
“I don’t think the Dragons can take anything for granted because Mogliano is an awesome club and it will be a great atmosphere.
“The Dragons can expect a feisty welcome from the home crowd, but they will also be very well looked after.”