Dragons in search for number seven
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons are preparing to recruit a new openside flanker as they await news on captain Lewis Evans’ troublesome calf.
The region have sent the 25-year-old skipper to a specialist in a bid to get to the bottom of the injury that has plagued his pre-season.
Evans did not feature in any of the Dragons’ friendlies and lost his fitness battle to lead them out in tomorrow’s RaboDirect Pro12 opener against Zebre.
It leaves the region with no fit specialist opensides because Darren Waters ruptured ligaments in his left knee in their final warm-up clash against London Irish and will be sidelined for at least six months.
Jevon Groves, a blindside by trade, will fill the void at Rodney Parade tomorrow evening but it seems inevitable that the Dragons will be looking to add to their squad in the coming weeks.
They still have room in their squad for a non-Welsh qualified player and the severity of Evans’ injury will determine their recruitment policy.
"Lewis is a concern," admitted head coach Darren Edwards. "His calf isn’t quite right and we need to investigate the injury further but hopefully it’s a matter of weeks and not long-term.
"The injury to Darren Waters has really caused us problems and it is a major disappointment for him, because he deserves to be out there.
"He played incredibly well in pre-season and was becoming a much more polished player and gave a real balance alongside Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau.
"The injuries give us a problem because the way that we want to play requires contact area specialists to slow the opposition down and speed ball up for us so that we can play at high tempo.
"I would imagine that we are going to have to recruit. If it’s good news on Lewis then we’ve got our number one openside and maybe we’ll back him up. If it’s bad news, we need to get a frontline seven.
"For now Jevon is the next one in. He is a talented rugby player and I don’t doubt he will respond to the challenge."
Groves will be at the fore of what is likely to be a ferocious battle up front against the Italian newcomers.
Zebre have retained plenty of the Aironi squad from last season and head into the clash with director of rugby Roberto Manghi setting a minimum requirement of beating their predecessors’ total of four Pro12 wins.
The Dragons head into the game on the back of a fine win and performance against London Irish but know that at least four points are required from their opener.
"We are ready to go now," said Edwards. "After working so hard in pre-season the boys just want to play rugby and we’ve been holding them back this week.
"The pressure is on because we need to produce and get off to a good start.
"Aironi were a tough team to play against and Zebre will be no different; this is not a new team that has just been thrown together.
"They have some seasoned players and have brought some big names in and we expect them to be just like Aironi – not particularly flash but effective in what they do.
"We are all about generating a fast tempo, they are all about slowing it down so it should be a good battle and one we are excited about."
The Dragons name their side this afternoon with hooker Steve Jones set to be captain in Evans’ absence, while centre Pat Leach and wing Will Harries are poised to return after not being risked in the friendly against Irish after suffering niggles.