Dragons flanker Aaron Wainwright believes the underdogs can find their bite when they face rivals Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on Friday night.
The back row forward – on the fringes of the Wales team despite the handicap of having to perform every week in a mostly losing line-up – insists the sacking of Bernard Jackman can be a catalyst for improvement at Rodney Parade.
The Dragons lost again last week – their third defeat in a row where they have shipped over 45 points – but there were some signs for optimism, says Wainwright in their 49-24 reverse at Clermont Auvergne in the European Challenge Cup.
Now, as the Welsh Guinness Pro 14 festive derbies begin – seemingly everywhere on the calendar except where fans want them to be, on Boxing Day – Wainwright insists the Dragons can inflict another defeat on the Blues who are on the cusp of turning a downturn into a crisis by suffering a fifth straight defeat.
“Against Clermont we fronted up really well and were really physical,” said Wainwright.
“We knew that they were going to be a tough outfit because they are one of the best teams in Europe let alone the Challenge Cup.
“We pulled together really well as a team and stuck tight as a unit, and that has put us in good stead for this week.
“Clermont were really physical and the Blues will be as well, so if we can be as physical as last week, finish off some chances and stay a bit tighter in defence then we will be alright.
“With what has happened we have stayed really tight as a group, everyone has pulled together and that was especially important going away in Europe.
“That showed on the pitch, we worked for each other and were physical. We just need to take that into this week and over the Christmas period to get some results.
“This is going to be a big period for us, especially after what has happened.
“There is a lot of potential here, you can see the squad that we have got on paper and it’s just about putting the performances in.
“As soon as we can find what makes us tick and find some good performances then we will be able to push on and compete with the best in the league.”
The 21-year-old may speak with the optimism of youth, but he, at least, is one player who is currently walking the walk as well as talking a good game.
After breaking into the national squad this season and earning a cap out in Argentina, Wainwright has impressed most judges with his dynamism and workrate.
He can further his case for more Wales honours in the forthcoming Six Nations if he shows up well against a Blues back row that will include Wales autumn flanker Josh Navidi.
“Hopefully I will be playing against people that I am up against for selection. As long as the team play well that is my main focus and if I can get a couple of good performances then that is a bonus.
“There are still people to come back from injury so I wouldn’t say that I am right in the frame, it’s just about playing well for the Dragons and helping the team. If I can do that then I will put my hand up for selection.
“Derby games are an exciting time of the season and I am feeling good. I just want to stay fit and keep performing.”
The Dragons have been dealt a blow with star No 8 Ross Moriarty ruled out with concussion. Moriarty’s absence forces one of five starting changes for the visitors, with Harrison Keddie coming into the back row.
They have made one other change to their pack with Lloyd Fairbrother coming back into the front row. Captain Cory Hill will continue on the blindside.
Out wide, Jared Rosser returns from hamstring trouble to join Zane Kirchner and Hallam Amos in the back three. Jarryd Sage comes back in at No.12, partnering Adam Warren in the centre, and Rhodri Williams starts at scrum-half.
John Mulvihill makes three changes from last week’s European defeat to Saracens, as the head coach welcomes international scrum half, Tomos Williams back to the line-up following a minor injury he suffered against Ulster three weeks ago.
Olly Robinson, who featured from the bench against Saracens, is re-introduced into the starting back row, while Dillon Lewis is handed the number three jersey.
Kristian Dacey has been appointed captain for the remainder of the campaign, in the absence of the injured Ellis Jenkins, and will lead the side out on Friday.
The back three remains unchanged, meaning Dan Fish retains his place at full back following an impressive try-scoring display against English champions Saracens last week.
Head coach Mulvihill said: “Finally, we’re back at home for our first derby of the season at the Arms Park.
“We’ve got a pretty strong team going in, without changing too much from last week and the confidence is there in this group, and we’ll take that into the group.
“We’ve given a fair few guys an opportunity recently, whether that’s through form and injury, and we don’t want many changes from week-to-week to get a bit of consistency of selection and effort.
“Consistency is something we probably haven’t had much of this season, but we’re targeting these three derby games and will look to go as close to full strength as possible in every game we play.
“Kristian Dacey has been appointed as the captain of the team for the rest of the season. We’ve used Olly Robinson, Josh Turnbull and Lloyd Williams over recent weeks, but if we can get a long-term version of the captain, it’ll be good for us as a group.
“That was announced to the squad this week and the boys are happy and will get behind him and support him.”
Cardiff Blues: D Fish; B Scully, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, G Smith; G Anscombe, T Williams; R Gill, K Dacey (captain), D Lewis, S Davies, J Turnbull, J Navidi, O Robinson, N Williams. Replacements: K Myhill, B Thyer, S Andrews, G Earle, J Down, L Williams, S Shingler, M Morgan
Dragons: Z Kirchner, J Rosser, A Warren, J Sage, H Amos, J Lewis, R Williams, R Bevington, E Dee, L Fairbroher, B Nansen, M Screech, C Hill (captain), A Wainwright, H Keddie. Replacements: R Hibbard, G Ellis, A Jarvis, L Evans, N Cudd, T Knoyle, J Tovey, J Williams.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)