Preview: Aironi v Dragons

Date published: February 18 2011

Julien Laharrague and Gareth Krause return to the Aironi starting line-up for Sunday's home Magners League clash with Dragons.

Julien Laharrague and Gareth Krause return to the Aironi starting line-up for Sunday's Magners League clash with Dragons at Stadio Zaffanella.

Aironi are still looking for their first Magners League win and have targeted Sunday's clash as a big opportunity to reach their goal.

“The feeling is good, we have had very good training sessions all the week. We want this win because we need it”, said flank Gareth Krause.

Laharrague returns at full-back replacing the injured Paolo Buso. Kaine Robertson and Giulio Toniolatti are on the wings, while centres Gabriel Pizarro and Horacio San Martin complete the backline.

Aironi captain Marco Bortolami will play alongside Joshua Furno in the second row. The front row is the same as the one that started against Leinster last week, with props Fabio Staibano and Alberto De Marchi and Roberto Santamaria hooking.

There is also a first call for the former Azzurri U20 player from Rugby Roma, young hooker Tommaso D'Apice among the replacements.

Meanwhile, acting Dragons head coach Darren Edwards is under no illusion of the challenge his side face in Northern Italy this weekend.

The Italian side are coached by Welshman Rowland Phillips who has brought an new wave of confidence to the club since taking over the reins at the end of last year and Edwards believes his men will have to fight for 80 minutes to come away with the win they crave.

“Aironi are a heavy, physical team and they don't give up,” said Edwards.

“They put in a good performance against Leinster last week and it took Leinster 70 minutes to break them down and that was away from home

“They are going into the game quite confident and I know we will have to work hard to get a victory out there.

“They have certainly improved since we last played them and I would say they are the most improved team this year.

“They gave away a lot of penalties away at the start of the season, but they have changed that and it is only a matter of time until they get their first victory and I just hope it's not against us this weekend.”

The Dragons are on a three game winning streak and following their 30 v 22 victory over Edinburgh at Rodney Parade on Saturday confidence is high before the trip to Italy.

“We have brought a lot of balance to our game recently, we scored five tries last week, some though the forwards, some through strike play and some through support play and that is a really nice balance,” he added.

“With Martyn (Roberts) back at full-back we have got a good balance in our back three with some strong strike runners.

“My target is simply to get more Magners League points than we did last year, the important thing at the region is to progress and we are in a good place to do that. Last year we stepped up towards the end of the season and we have to do that again this year.”

Meanwhile, Acting Head Coach Darren Edwards has named his side to face Aironi.

Luke Charteris returns to captain the side, joining Rob Sidoli in the second row. The effective back-row unit of Lewis Evans, Joe Bearman and Andrew Coombs all keep their places, with hooker Lloyd Burns coming in for squad captain Tom Willis.

Phil Price and Dan Way, who have both impressed in recent weeks, complete the front-row. Ben Castle, Hugh Gustafson and Steve Jones provide front-row cover, with Hugo Ellis and Scott Morgan also on the bench.

Martyn Thomas returns at full-back, with Will Harries moving to the wing and Adam Hughes dropping to the bench. Pat Leach and Tom Riley start in the centre, with Ashley Smith and Matthew Watkins nursing minor injuries from last weekend's victory over Edinburgh. Aled Brew starts on the wing, whilst the half back partnership of Jason Tovey and Wayne Evans continue. Mike Petri and Mathew Jones complete the substitutes.

The Dragons defeated the Italians 36-5 in the first fixture between the sides at Rodney Parade earlier this season.

Form: Dragons took the only previous meeting between the two sides, 36-5, at Rodney Parade in October. Aironi have obtained a losing bonus point in three of their last four Magners League matches. Aironi's only victory so far remains their 28-27 win over Biarritz in the European Cup on 11 December. Dragons have won their last three matches in all competitions, and have won three of their last four games in the Magners League. The Dragons most recent Magners League win outside of Wales was 9-8 at Edinburgh on 1 November 2009.

The teams:

Aironi: 15 Julien Laharrague; 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Gabriel Pizarro, 12 Horacio San Martin, 11 Giulio Toniolatti; 10 James Marshall, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Nick Williams. 7 Gareth Krause, 6 Jaco Erasmus, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Joshua Furno, 3 Fabio Staibano, 2 Roberto Santamaria, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Luca Redolfini, 18 Andrea De Marchi, 19 George Biagi, 20 Nicola Cattina, 21 Pietro Travagli, 22 Alberto Benettin, 23 Matteo Pratichetti.

Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Will Harries, 13 Tom Riley, 12 Pat Leach, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Andrew Coombs, 7 Joe Bearman, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Rob Sidoli, 3 Dan Way, 2 Lloyd Burns, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Steve Jones, 17 Hugh Gustafson, 18 Ben Castle, 19 Scott Morgan, 20 Hugo Ellis, 21 Mike Petri, 22 Mathew Jones, 23 Adam Hughes.

Date: Sunday, February 20
Kick-off: 17:30
Venue: Stadio Zaffanella
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)