Ulster poised to add to Dragons’ current woes
Home advantage and pride will hardly be enough for Bernard Jackman’s side
Backrow Greg Jones will start for Ulster for the first time when they take on Dragons at Rodney Parade. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Dragons v Ulster, Rodney Parade 7.35pm (Live BBC)
Bernard Jackman, speaking this week, painted a picture of a difficult life at Dragons and of an injury-hit season. They are a club still in the building.
With Dragons also supplying three players, Hallam Amos, Cory Hill and Elliot Dee to Wales for their game against South Africa in Cardiff, Ulster will arrive at Rodney Parade with some degree of confidence.
Home advantage and pride will hardly be enough for Dragons and, while they promise to be a more heavy-hitting side next season, each week so far has been a struggle for the former Irish hooker and his team.
He has used 58 players so far and has also had to delve deep into an academy of teenagers, which is far from ideal.
Ulster, though, are not having it their own way and conspired to make last week’s last gasp defeat of Treviso more difficult than it should have been. A try two minutes from the end relieved them of embarrassment. Little errors and botching good pitch position and ball possession has made their lives harder too.
Academy backrow Greg Jones and South African prop Schalk van der Merwe will start for Ulster for the first time.
Rory Best, Stuart McCloskey and Sean Reidy also return to the squad after helping Ireland to an unbeaten November Series. McCloskey will partner Tommy Bowe in midfield with Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik and Charles Piutau forming the back three combination.
It is Dragons’ first of five home matches this month and Jackman makes three changes. Outhalf Gavin Henson is joined by youngster Dan Babos in the only change in the backs. In the pack Brok Harris returns to the front row, from the bench, and is joined by hooker Liam Belcher who makes his first PRO14 start in a Dragons jersey.
“We’re obviously sore after what was a difficult night in Ireland and we’ve challenged each other to be better and the response we’ve seen this week so far has been really positive,” said Jackman.
“Now we have to make sure we get to the right pitch emotionally to perform against Ulster.”
That and a bit more is required perhaps.
DRAGONS: A O’Brien; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, J Rosser; G Henson, D Babos; B Harris, L Belcher, L Fairbrother, J Davies, M Screech, A Wainwright, O Griffiths, J Benjamin. Replacements: E Shipp, G Ellis, S Hobbs, R Landman, B Roach, C Davies, A Robson, P Howard.
ULSTER: C Piurau; C Gilroy, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik; C Lealiifano, P Marshall; S van der Merwe, J Andrew, R Kane, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, G Jones, S Reidy, N Timoney. Replacements: R Best, C Black, A Warwick, M Dalton, C Henry, J Cooney, P Nelson, A Trimble.
Referee: N Owens (WRU)
Verdict: Ulster win