NEWPORT Gwent Dragons will look to the front row that steadied the ship last weekend to give them a platform to play off in tomorrow afternoon’s clash against Zebre (kick-off 3pm).
Loosehead Phil Price, hooker Elliot Dee and tighthead Duncan Bell were called from the bench after just half an hour of last Sunday’s 24-8 humbling by Connacht.
Things were a lot more solid while the trio were on the field and they have been rewarded with starting spots in Parma.
Prop Bruce Douglas stays in the matchday squad but as a loosehead but Owen Evans and Hugh Gustafson miss out after their struggles with Nathan Buck and Sam Parry getting the nod instead.
“Duncan Bell played half an hour against Connacht and we didn’t concede while he was on,” said director of rugby Lyn Jones.
“I am pretty confident that if we have the ability to hold our scrum we’d have the ability to finish in the top seven but it’s going to be a challenge for us to turn that attitude with officials around and show that we can scrummage.”
Wales and Lions star Taulupe Faletau returns at number eight at the expense of Netani Talei and Matthew Screech is preferred to Robert Sidoli in the second row.
There are just two changes behind the scrum with the management plumping for the more experienced midfield partnership of Ashley Smith and Pat Leach.
Teenage Wales wing/full-back Hallam Amos makes his return from an ankle injury after being named among the replacements.
The Dragons have won all three encounters with Zebre with an average score of 27-9 but the Italians, who failed to win a single game last season, have made strides this season and did the double over Cardiff Blues.
They will look for influential New Zealander Brendon Leonard to control matters from scrum-half while wing Leonardo Sarto showed how dangerous he can be during a fine Six Nations campaign.
Zebre are bottom of the table but trail Italian rivals Treviso by just two points in their tussle for a place in next season’s premier European competition.
“Zebre are a side with nothing to lose,” said Jones. “Leonard at scrum-half is an exceptional player and is the catalyst for everything that they do. They are similar to us in lots of respects in their strengths and weaknesses.”
Zebre: G Palazzani, L Sarto, T Iannone, G Garcia, D Berryman, L Orquera, B Leonard, S Perugini, D Giazzon, D Ryan, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (captain), F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa. Replacements: T D’Apice, M Aguero, D Chistolini, E Caffini, F Cristiano, D Odiete, G Venditti, K Ratuvou.
Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie, P Leach, A Smith, W Harries, J Tovey, R Rees, P Price, E Dee, D Bell, A Coombs (captain), M Screech, L Evans, N Cudd, T Faletau. Replacements: S Parry, B Douglas, N Buck, C Hill, J Groves, W Evans, J Dixon, H Amos.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)