Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Newport-Gwent Dragons

Jacob Stockdale

Jacob Stockdale is set to make his first start against the Dragons

Kan this week get any more exciting?

First came the news that we would be signing Ryan Kankowski as Nick Williams’ replacement, then came the inevitable doubts, then came the expected news that Louis Ludik will be staying on with us as a “special project player” and then finally, as if that wasn’t enough, it emerged that the Kankowski signing wasn’t happening all along!

Phew.

And after all that we still have a match tomorrow night against the Newport-Gwent Dragons – our rescheduled game from just before the final round of Champions’ Cup matches when we were in Oyonnax. It is, however, a very important game because, since it is the only PRO12 game this weekend, it grants us the opportunity to go top of the table should we win.

We come into this game off the back of a second performance in a month where we had a rather limp first half only for us to come roaring back into it with a strong second half, only this time instead of us needing a big comeback to win against Oyonnax, we needed a big second 40 to score four tries and pick up the bonus point against Treviso.

We probably shouldn’t kid ourselves, Treviso are not anybody’s idea of a difficult team and they were poor on Saturday, even by their own standards. However, after a first half to forget it is a relief to get out of Italy with all five points under our belts that keeps us up at the top of the table. It was also an important game in that we got to see Lorcan Dow and Jacob Stockdale make their senior debuts too, evidence that the Academy is producing some impressive talent for the future.

Our depth will once again be tested by the Dragons this week. As Leinster found out last weekend, the Dragons can be a very dangerous side during international windows due to the fact that they lose very few players to international call-ups and therefore we will have to treat them very seriously. Leinster’s chance to go top of the table was quashed by the Dragons last weekend, we’d better make sure ours isn’t too.

Because the Dragons do pose a lot of threats, especially out wide in the speedy Ashton Hewitt who was man of the match last weekend. Sarel Pretorius at scrum-half has the very handy ability of being able to spot a gap through which he can snipe for easy yards while the back row features the very dangerous openside flanker Nic Cudd, the Dragons’ answer to Chris Henry. Not losing any of them to the Six Nations really helps the Dragons both in terms of ability and continuity.

Don’t be fooled by their tenth place position in the league, they will be eager for another scalp of a big team in the PRO12, something they have a very handy knack of achieving. But as I always say in these games, if we want to be a force to be reckoned with in the PRO12 then these are games we have to be winning, probably with a bonus point too.

We just about got out of jail last week with the five points to our name, this week you’d hope we could make it a bit more comfortable. However with the Dragons capable of taking points off us there is an argument to take the win and run to the top of the table and then regroup ahead of Glasgow next week when we’ll really be tested.

But for now, let’s get four points first and then worry about the fifth when we get there.

Peter Nelson

 

URSC Point: Make sure you call by the URSC Information Point outside the Kukri shop behind the Memorial Stand before the game for all the latest URSC news. Tommy Bowe called by before the Oyonnax game, and tonight it will be PETER NELSON from 6.20pm to 6.40pm.

Peter was with us at the end of October so we mustn’t have put him off that night. If YOU missed out on your autographs or selfies that night, tonight’s the night to put that right.

 

The stats

We are in good form in all competitions having lost just two game in our last nine outings – a 33-17 defeat away to Saracens in the Champions’ Cup and a 9-7 loss at home to Munster in the PRO12. The stats show we are very strong at home too as we haven’t lost two consecutive home games in the league since December 2010, a record which shall be broken should we lose tomorrow.

Similarly, the Newport-Gwent Dragons haven’t won successive games in the PRO12 since April 2015, but again that record will be broken if they win tomorrow after their 23-13 victory over Leinster last weekend at Rodney Parade. The Dragons are also unsuccessful on the road since they won over in Treviso last March.

We have only lost once in our last four meetings with the Dragons – a 22-26 defeat at Rodney Parade in March 2015 – while the Dragons haven’t won in Belfast since September 2008.

The teams

Five changes for Ulster with both Jacob Stockdale making his first competitive start for the province. Stockdale replaces Rory Scholes in the back three while the only other change in the backs sees Ruan Pienaar replace Paul Marshall at the back of the scrum. The two changes up front see Robbie Diack return to the side at blindside flanker while Franco van der Merwe is rested and replaced in the second row by Pete Browne. Paddy Jackson is named on the bench having been released by Ireland.

There are six changes for the Dragons from last week’s team which defeated Leinster. The half-backs are changed with Angus O’Brien and Charlie Davies replacing the injured Jason Tovey and the dropped Sarel Pretorius, while in the front row Brok Harris is the only survivor with Phil Price and Elliott Dee lining up beside him. In the back row loan signing Ben White gets his debut on the blindside flank with Ed Jackson starting at number eight.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Newport-Gwent Dragons

Friday 5th February, 19:35

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 12 (Rescheduled)

 

Live on BBC2 NI

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Louis Ludik, 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Stuart Olding, 11. Jacob Stockdale, 10. Ian Humphreys, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rob Herring (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Pete Browne, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. John Andrew, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Bronson Ross, 19. Clive Ross, 20. Nick Williams, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Paddy Jackson, 23. Rory Scholes.

 

NEWPORT-GWENT DRAGONS

15. Carl Meyer, 14. Ashton Hewitt, 13. Adam Hughes, 12. Adam Warren, 11. Hallam Amos, 10. Angus O’Brien, 9. Charlie Davies; 1. Phil Price, 2. Elliott Dee, 3. Brok Harris, 4. Matthew Screech, 5. Rynard Landman (capt.), 6. Ben White, 7. Nic Cudd, 8. Ed Jackson.

Replacements: 16. Rhys Buckley, 17. Boris Stankovich, 18. Shaun Knight, 19. Cory Hill, 20. James Benjamin, 21. Sarel Pretorius, 22. Rhys Jones, 23. Nick Scott.

 

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 131st competition game)

Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Shane Kierans (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: Wayne Sheriden (IRFU)

TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU)