JJ HANRAHAN has urged the Dragons to land the first punch in their South Africa tour finale against the Lions on Saturday.
The Rodney Parade club return to Ellis Park on Saturday to get their European Challenge Cup campaign under way (kick-off 10.45am, live on Viaplay).
They started their three-game tour in Johannesburg when they slipped to a 33-25 United Rugby Championship defeat in a game that really should have yielded at least a bonus.
That was followed by a 34-26 defeat to the Stormers when the champions secured the spoils thanks to hitting the front 28-0 in a rapid start.
The Dragons gave them a scare and scored a four-try bonus but it was another case of what might have been.
Hanrahan hopes they have learnt their lesson for the return fixture against the Lions.
“You can’t wait to be smacked in the mouth before you react, you have to be throwing punches first,” said the Irishman, who is one of three fly-half options in South Africa along with Sam Davies and Will Reed.
“We have to come out of the blocks quicker this weekend, we can’t be surprised by what is coming.
“We are in South Africa, they are physical, strong and are going to come at you. They will be confrontational and if you shy away from that then it’s going to be a very long day.”
The Dragons broke their away duck for the season in Port Elizabeth thanks to tries by wing Jordan Williams, props Aki Seiuli and Josh Reynolds and a cracker finished off by Hanrahan.
At 28-0 on the stroke of half-time it looked like a hammering to eclipse the 44-6 loss at Edinburgh on opening weekend was on the cards but Dai Flanagan’s men rallied.
“There is good character in this group. They are good men and care a lot about the club and the team, so I am not surprised that we stayed in the fight,” said Hanrahan.
“But ‘Muzz’ [captain Ross Moriarty] spoke about it straight after the game, we can’t start like that.
“We said about the Stormers being strong in the first 20 minutes but we were on the back foot. We weren’t meeting tackles, we were letting them come onto us and it was like trying to stop a steam train at times.
“We regrouped and it was more of a Dragons performance in the second half. You can look at 101 technical things but the reality is that rugby is a physical game.
“If you don’t meet a South African team on the gain line you are chasing them all day and it was more a mental attitude in the first half.
“We made it more of a fight in the second half but it was a matter of what we could salvage from the game rather than win it, which was disappointing.”
The Dragons name their team at midday on Friday with Flanagan pledging that he would rotate his squad.
Loosehead Rhodri Jones and lock Ben Carter are poised to be involved after flying out following Wales duty along with loosehead Rob Evans and wing Jared Rosser, who are fit after head and shoulder injuries respectively.