Aaron Wainwright admits the excitement is building for the third instalment of derby day – and revealed how he will be striving to combat the threat in the Ospreys back row.
Wales international Wainwright is all set to pack down in the back row when Dragons tackle Ospreys at Rodney Parade on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
There will be plenty of familiar faces in the back row with Wales team-mates Wainwright and Justin Tipuric among those set to face off.
The 23-year-old, who has made 53 appearances for his region, admits it is good to be back in Dragons colours after time away with the national squad.
And this weekend the focus is all on getting back to winning ways and starting 2021 on home soil on the front foot.
“It’s been nice to get a couple of games and be involved in the derbies,” said the Newport-born forward. “They’re always close and intense games, but the body is holding up well and I’m ready to go on the weekend.
“It will be a tough against the Ospreys, like the previous two derbies it will be a close encounter.
“I know a quite a few of the boys so, like the other fixtures over the festive period, it will be nice to try and get one up on them.
“For us it’s about being defensively solid again and trying to get our attacking platform going.
“Players like (Dan) Lydiate and Tips (Tipuric) are experienced so I’m sure they will be looking to get into us nice and early.
“For us as a forward pack and a back row unit it’s just about trying to make sure we stop what they are good at, like Tips getting over the ball and (Morgan) Morgan with his carrying.
“If we can make sure we stop them doing that then it will give us a good platform to get into the game and that’s what we will be looking to do on the weekend.”
Reflecting on the narrow derby defeats to Cardiff Blues and Scarlets, Wainwright believes the team can take great heart from the defensive displays.
But he admits he will be sorry that no crowd will once again be at Rodney Parade this weekend to make it a special atmosphere.
“I think defensively, as a team, we have been getting better,” he said. “We were solid against Cardiff Blues and against the Scarlets.
“This week we’ve just been trying to get our attacking game going a bit more and I think If we can do that on the weekend then we can see a different result from the past two games.
“We have definitely missed the crowds,” he added. “In the derbies last year they were massive, getting right behind us. The boys love playing at Rodney Parade with that backing.
“Missing the crowd hasn’t maybe impacted how we have been playing so much, but the atmosphere and the buzz you get off the crowd we are definitely missing.
“For us, as players, as soon as the crowds can come back to Rodney Parade and everywhere else it will be so much better for the game.”
Wainwright has operated at Number Eight in the first two Guinness PRO14 games of the festive period.
It is a positional change welcomed by Wales boss Wayne Pivac, who has stated he sees a long-term future for the Dragons player in that role.
Boss Dean Ryan has also praised Wainwright’s ‘appetite for work, his enormous physicality’ during the derby games.
“I’m enjoying it, it’s nice to get the ball out the back of the scrum and have a couple of runs there,” said Wainwright.
“Wherever I am picked to play I will try and do my best and I’m happy to play there.
“I spoke to Wayne and that is where he sees me playing so I’m just trying to do my best to get as many involvements as possible when playing there with the Dragons.
"Hopefully when I’m in camp I can get the chance to play Number Eight and show what I can do.
“In terms of doing things differently, I guess it’s just about control a bit more at the back of the scrum, that relationship between eight and nine, understanding what they want from me and what I can give them.
“If the scrum is in a bit of trouble just a bit of release of the pressure for them and just that control around the base
. “Other than that, around the park there isn’t much that really changes for me, I just try and get my game going.
“We’ve always had very good strength in depth in our back row, it;ds an area of strength,” he added.
“Keddie has been playing well and captained very well on the weekend, Taine’s been playing well and is unfortunate what has happened to his arm.
“A couple of the boys are out now so it’s a chance for some of others to come in and show what they can do.
“We’re all excited to get out there and play again on the weekend.”
We have definitely missed the crowds... In the derbies last year they were massive, getting right behind us...