Zebre got off to a losing start in Wales for the second straight Guinness PRO12 season but George Biagi has warned they can’t afford more déjà-vu in Newport on Friday.
A year ago the Italians suffered a big defeat to the Cardiff Blues before travelling to Rodney Parade, this time they arrive in Newport fresh from a big defeat to the Ospreys.
In 2015 they produced an improved performance in their second game, going down 13-0 to the Dragons, and had to wait until round five for their first win.
But Biagi insists this season they need to be more competitive early if they are to achieve their pre-season ambitions.
“The Ospreys was a difficult game for us and we had a similar start last year when we had Cardiff then Newport straight away and reacted with a better performance,” the second row told the South Wales Argus.
“We want to put things right on Friday but we can’t just keep reacting to bad results – we have to start seasons better because if we had done that last year then it would have made a big difference in that bottom three (with the Dragons and Treviso).
“We took a while to get going and then won a few games on the trot, so even if it had only been bonus points that we got at the start of the season then we would have been in a better position.
“We know that people are going to talk about us after losing like we did at the Ospreys but we can’t worry about what they say.
“We want to put things right and just have to focus on our performance and build this season, because we will be playing Champions Cup rugby.”
Zebre will take some heart from their last game against the Dragons, as they won 47-22 on the final day of last season.
At Rodney Parade they will welcome back international duo Quintin Geldenhuys and Oliviero Fabiani in their pack while in the backline Carlo Canna returns at fly-half after coming off the bench against the Ospreys.
The Dragons also welcome back international pair Hallam Amos and Tyler Morgan to their backline at full-back and outside centre respectively.
They were also beaten in their first game of the campaign, falling 20-8 to Ulster despite opening the scoring through Pat Howard.
And flanker Nic Cudd admits there was some frustration at the loss, even if he is enjoying life under boss Kingsley Jones.
“It was a good start to the game for us at Ulster but a disappointing second half when we pretty much just defended,” said Cudd.
“It was frustrating after making a good start and going out there with confidence. We played some good rugby in pre-season and we just need to be able to play that for the full 80 minutes, not just the first 30.
“I am enjoying the new style because I get my hands on the ball a bit more; I like a fast game and it suits me more as a smaller player. But from a team point of view we just need to keep it up throughout the game.”
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 8, Newport Gwent Dragons won 5, Zebre won 2 and 1 game drawn
At Rodney Parade, 7:35pm.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU, 12th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Cammy Rudkin (SRU), Gareth John (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU)
Pat Howard’s second try in two Guinness PRO12 games was enough for Newport Gwent Dragons to secure a narrow win over a battling Zebre side at Rodney Parade.
Kingsley Jones welcomed back Hallam Amos and Tyler Morgan after losing 29-8 away to Ulster on opening night, but it was Howard’s combination with barrelling lock Rynard Landman and Sarel Pretorious that ultimately proved vital.
Zebre were much improved from their 59-5 loss to Ospreys last week and Carlo Canna struck with a penalty early on, but Howard’s finish followed by two Nick Macleod’s penalties were enough to secure a first win of the Guinness PRO12 season for Jones’ men.
Dragons will take confidence from grinding out victory before a tough task up next against Rassie Erasmus’ resurgent Munster side, while Gianluca Guidi will surely be happy with the way his men responded to last week’s heavy loss by securing a first point of the season away from home.
It was a bright start from the hosts, but Zebre fought back into the side with Canna on hand to slot over their first away Guinness PRO12 points with the boot since January.
A bust from lock Landman paved the way for Dragons to score the first try of the game after 17 minutes, the powerful forward offloading to Pretorious who shifted the ball for Pat Howard to canter home.
MacLeod missed the conversion but made amends ten minutes later with a well-struck penalty that moved Dragons 8-3 ahead before his second three-pointer of the night further extended the lead.
Canna struck with a timely penalty just before half-time to bring Zebre within a score at the break, the 24-year-old pivot then missed a chance to bring the Italians within two points five minutes into the second half.
Neither side could really gain a foothold in the second half and with both sides slipping to 14 men at stages and defences continued to dominate throughout.