Edwards thrilled to be facing loaded Ospreys
OSPREYS v DRAGONS (Tonight, KO 7.05)
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons will go up against a fully-loaded Ospreys side in tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash at the Liberty Stadium – and head coach Darren Edwards wouldn’t have it any other way.
This evening’s hosts fling half a dozen Six Nations title winners back into regional action.
Locks Alun Wyn Jones and Ian Evans in the second row, flanker Justin Tipuric, tighthead prop Adam Jones, hooker Richard Hibbard and fly-half Dan Biggar all start for the playoff-chasing Ospreys.
Few will be tipping an away win given that they are joined in the starting XV by fellow Wales internationals Ashley Beck, Jon Spratt, Ryan Bevington and Jonathan Thomas, young hopeful James King and Samoa ace Kahn Fotuali’i.
The Dragons field Six Nations star Andrew Coombs in the second row and Lions hopeful Dan Lydiate will be in at the deep end as he makes his first appearance for six months in the back row.
It promises to be a stern test for the Rodney Parade region as they look to climb up from 11th place in the table but it’s a challenge they are relishing.
“The Ospreys are going full strength but that’s exciting,” said Edwards.
“Local derbies are always something to look forward to but even more so on the back of the Wales performance against England in the Six Nations.
“The Welsh pack is predominantly Ospreys with Dan Biggar as the game controller. With good foundations up front and a good tactician behind them they are going to be a good team.
“The Ospreys boys showed what they are all about when they won the title last season, they’ve got all the ingredients of a great team.
“We know it would be a tough game whoever they picked, because their youngsters showed real promise in the LV= Cup.
“We will have to be at our best to challenge them but it’s a big opportunity.
“It’s a crucial period for us with the Scarlets to come next week, we can make a statement of intent and change the perception of us as a team.
“A good two weeks wouldn’t paper over cracks but it would show that we are moving forward.”
The Dragons head west with a youthful set of three-quarters in which outside centre Pat Leach is the senior figure at the age of 27, yet with just 49 regional appearances to his name.
The average age in the backs is 22.1 while Ross Wardle, who recently penned a full-time deal after impressing with Bedwas, makes his Pro12 debut on the left wing.
But Edwards is backing his young guns to shine against the best team in Wales – and make an impression on the watching international selectors. “They’ve been brilliant, have trained well and are looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“It’s a Lions year and the Welsh management and public will see them over the next two weeks.
“Reputations will be made and now is the time to stand out for any players with aspirations of getting on a Welsh tour and staking claims for future honours.
“These are high profile games and show what you are all about.”
The Ospreys beat the Dragons 14-3 at Rodney Parade on New Year’s Eve but the tables were turned in the LV= Cup in January, the hosts winning 18-14 in Newport.