Hooker Richard Hibbard has called on Dragons to rise up to the challenge of Worcester Warriors as they bid to maintain the region’s unbeaten start to the new European season.
Dean Ryan’s men are top of Pool 1 in the European Challenge Cup with maximum points after two rounds, following victories over Castres Olympique and Enisei-STM.
Next up is a double-header with Worcester Warriors over consecutive weeks, that starts with a clash at Sixways Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
And Hibbard knows Dragons must be ready for a physical test against a Warriors side riding high in the Gallagher English Premiership after defeating Sale Sharks last time out.
“Worcester will be a typical English side and will be even more physical than Zebre,” said Hibbard.
“It’s going to be a tough game - we have to learn from where we got things wrong last weekend in the one on ones. We are not the biggest team in the world and should have been doubling up on people.
“We beat a good Castres team and had a lot of things up against us in Russia, but the boys handled it well, so we are on the front foot on maximum points.
“We will go to Worcester, it’s a tough ask but as a group, helped with a few Wales boys coming in, we will go there and really challenge them.
“I’ve been on the other side of it,” added Hibbard. “I lost to the Dragons with Gloucester when the boys came to Kingsolm and fronted up.
“That’s what it is going to take – we have to try and impose ourselves on Worcester and throw everything we’ve got at them.”
Dragons face Worcester on the back on a home defeat to Zebre and Hibbard acknowledges lessons need to be learnt from that loss in Newport.
“It was frustratingly difficult,” he said. “In a way we’ve been punished for how much better we are getting with a lot of boys being rewarded with Wales call-ups.
“It will take games like that for the boys coming in to learn and for us to find out where we are going to get better.
“You take a lot from that; in fact, you take a lot more than you do with close wins or losses. There are a lot of learnings from defeats like that.
“It’s good for the group because nobody wants to feel like that at home, and nobody will feel like that at home again this season.
“It has been an encouraging start; we have taken small steps forward and it’s not going to come overnight.
“You cannot transform a team in a few games, it will take a while, but will be underpinned by these youngsters coming through.
“I am encouraged by this season so far. We are making progress and have to make sure Zebre is a one off.”
Hibbard will be challenged for a starting spot this weekend by the return of Wales hooker Elliot Dee, with boss Dean Ryan admitting he is ready to call on his World Cup stars.
However, Hibbard – never one to back down from a contest - is relishing the battle and admits he is really enjoying his rugby under Ryan. “It’s good to have Elliot back - competition is great,” he said.
“You see that with the way that our back row is playing because we’ve got incredible strength in depth there, I’d say the best out of all the regions.
“It’s about challenging each other and getting comfortable with that challenge.
“When I look back at my time with the Ospreys that was the biggest driver for us because we were so strong in each position.
“You were thinking about the competition with your mates, not the opposition. That helps the team because if you have a bad day then the next person is waiting to go.
“Dean likes to play me a few minutes,” he added. “I love getting battered - I’m quite sadistic like that!
“I am enjoying it and Dean is right up my street. Every so often you come across a coach who gets you really excited again and he is definitely one of them, especially with this group.
“We are underestimated and some of these boys can really go far, so I want to be a part of the beginning of all this.”
Dragons are next in home action on Friday, December 13 when we welcome Worcester Warriors to Rodney Parade in the European Challenge Cup. Tickets are on sale NOW - click HERE to buy and take advantage of Early Bird rates.
We have to try and impose ourselves on Worcester and throw everything we’ve got at them...