Bernard Jackman has vowed the Dragons will be in a meaner mood when their Guinness Pro14 season kicks off on September 1.
The head coach saw his team lose 40-31 at Gloucester on Thursday evening in a friendly that held some encouraging themes, but also highlighted the region’s shortcomings.
The Dragons were porous in defence early on and went 40-12 behind, before rallying as their defence tightened and replacement Gavin Henson brought more control and fluidity.
But Jackman insists his team will have a firmer edge when Italians Benetton visit next week.
“I was really happy, we got exactly what we wanted out of it,” said Jackman after a match in which Gloucester gave a debut to Danny Cipriani following his recent assault conviction.
“We are changing our defensive system and were probably exposed to a quality of attack that we won’t get exposed to regularly in the Pro14.
“We are going to be much more aggressive with a rush defence and if you don’t get your spacing right it’s a risk, but when we do we will get a lot of turnovers, interceptions and force the opposition to make errors.
“It’s a work in progress and I don’t think any of the teams we play in the first few rounds of the Pro14 will attack like that, even Leinster, they attack really well but differently.”
“There were certain things we have tried that didn’t work but we haven’t shown our hand either to Benetton or the Kings, it was just about getting game time and get tested against a good side.
“That period before and after half-time (when the Dragons conceded a pair of tries, going from 14-12 down to 26-12) was frustrating but it gives us real-life examples to drill and learn from.”
Henson replaced Josh Lewis at outside-half for the second-half, although the switch coincided with Cipriani leaving the action.
The introduction of Henson, who looks as fit and eager as ever at the age of 36, gave the Dragons far more of a foothold in the contest and their improvement suggest the former Wales player may well start ahead of Lewis when the real action kicks-off.
Although Henson rarely breaks out of a canter these days, his positional sense and picking of the right pass would still seem to make him a vital cog in the Dragons’ machine.
One try-saving tackle near the end also emphasised his commitment to the cause and the manner in which the Dragons play – which is rumbling rather than explosive – means Henson could get by in their team for a good few years yet.
“It was great to see Gav back,” said Jackman. “He had a really good 40 minutes, his kicking was good and he controlled the game quite well.
“The plan was for Gav to play against Northampton [in pre-season] but he had a knock against Ealing and his knee has been swelling up – he had to have fluid taken out on Wednesday, which meant he couldn’t start at Gloucester.
“Gav was desperate to play because he wants to put his best foot forward. He had an excellent 40 minutes, he was composed and his line kicking was excellent.
“We have a big selection meeting now because he showed good composure and Josh had some good moments in pre-season as well.
“Fly-half is one of the positions that we will have to really think about. It’s going to be a hard call, we’ve just got to look at Treviso and see how we are going to play the game against them.”