Match Preview: Newport-Gwent Dragons vs. Ulster Rugby

Ruan Pienaar

Ruan Pienaar returns for Ulster against the Dragons

Finally an away performance we can be proud of!

Okay, yes it did result in another defeat, but at least this time we take two points away from a decent performance in Limerick where we ran Munster all the way and nearly took a bonus point win away from Thomond Park. Alas, even with Tomas O’Leary’s decision to kick the ball dead with a few seconds left on the clock we couldn’t force our way over the line at the end and, as such, two points is all we got.

But it is a marked improvement on our away performances in Llanelli and Edinburgh, and with Oyonnax rapidly approaching (it’s next week for crying out loud!) it’s a very welcome improvement too. Momentum counts for a lot in rugby, and even if we didn’t pick up the W last Friday we ran in four tries against one of our top four rivals and we can take a lot of confidence from that. And if we want to pick up four points in Oyonnax then a first away win of this season is probably a necessity on Sunday.

Standing in our way this week are the Newport-Gwent Dragons who have started the season in their usual mid-table form with two wins and four defeats from their opening six matches. Despite being one of the teams who had lost the least amount of players to the World Cup (by my count just two in Taulupe Faletau and Tyler Morgan) they occupy ninth in the table with just nine points, and so far their two wins have been unconvincing home triumphs over the Italian duo of Zebre and Treviso.

Both the Dragons and us are in something of a unique position – in all six games this season involving the two sides the home side on the day have won the match. As I have already mentioned neither of us have won away from home yet this season, and it is only down to the fact that we have played one more home match than they have so far as to why we have one more win than they do.

The Dragons have won their last five PRO12 fixtures at Rodney Parade (one of which was against us) and haven’t lost there in the league since February when Connacht were the visitors. Meanwhile we still have only won once away from home in the league since February with Connacht being the side we defeated last April.

On top of that our record in Newport is not good. At all. Two wins in eight visits since 2006 reflects how poorly we have performed against the men of Gwent, and our last victory at Rodney Parade was in October 2012. Bear in mind, however, we usually take on the Dragons with a depleted team – this Sunday we have a full hand to choose from.

Rodney Parade is always an awkward place to go and visit. I remember an interview with Rory Best where he was asked what the worst away venue to visit was and he ignored all the usual suspects like the RDS, Thomond Park and the Liberty Stadium and instead named Rodney Parade as the most difficult venue to visit. So that emphasises the task we face.

Luckily we have Best and a certain scrum-half back to bolster our ranks.

 

The teams

Lyn Jones opts for five changes to the team that lost to the Scarlets last Friday. In the backs there is a straight swap at full-back as Carl Meyer replaces Jason Tovey while at scrum-half Sarel Pretorius comes in for Charlie Davies. In the pack there are three changes with Shaun Knight coming in at tighthead prop for Brok Harris, Cory Hill swapping in for Matthew Screech, and there is a first PRO12 start for openside flanker Ollie Griffiths due to an injury to Nic Cudd.

Les Kiss has made seven changes for his opening game in charge at Ulster, which also sees Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar return to the squad on the bench. In the backs it is the two wingers who change with Rory Scholes and Sammy Arnold replacing the injured Andrew Trimble and the rested Craig Gilroy respectively. Up front Kyle McCall replaces Andrew Warwick at loosehead while Dan Tuohy comes into the line-up in the second row. Robbie Diack has recovered from injury to start at blindside flanker in place of Roger Wilson while there is a first start of the season for number eight Stephen Mulholland.

 

Newport-Gwent Dragons vs. Ulster Rugby

Sunday 8th November, 14:30

Rodney Parade

Guinness PRO12 – Round 7

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland and S4/C

 

NEWPORT-GWENT DRAGONS

15. Carl Meyer, 14. Ashton Hewitt, 13. Adam Hughes, 12. Adam Warren, 11. Nick Scott, 10. Dorian Jones, 9. Sarel Pretorius; 1. Boris Stankovich, 2. Elliott Dee, 3. Shaun Knight, 4. Cory Hill, 5. Rynard Landman (capt.), 6. Ed Jackson, 7. Ollie Griffiths, 8. Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: 16. Rhys Buckley, 17. Phil Price, 18. Brok Harris, 19. Matthew Screech, 20. Lewis Evans, 21. Charlie Davies, 22. Jason Tovey, 23. Ross Wardle.

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Peter Nelson, 14. Rory Scholes, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Sammy Arnold, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Paul Marshall; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rob Herring (capt.), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Dan Tuohy, 5. Franco van Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Stephen Mulholland.

Replacements: 16. Rory Best, 17. Ricky Lutton, 18. Bronson Ross, 19. Lewis Stevenson, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. Ruan Pienaar, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Craig Gilroy.

 

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU, 54th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Simon Rees (both WRU)

Citing Commissioner: Aurwel Morgan (WRU)

TMO: Paul Adams (WRU)