The first of a series of festive regional derbies for both sides, Dragons and Cardiff Blues return from their European travels into the white-hot atmosphere of a Boxing Day clash.
Dragons lost by an agonising two points in their Pool 1 Challenge Cup encounter with Newcastle Falcons, while Blues top Pool 2 and will be on a high after their win over Sale Sharks.
What’s at stake? Bragging rights! But other than regional pride, both sides will be looking to close the gap on sides above them in their conferences.
Cardiff could leapfrog Connacht with a bonus point victory over their Welsh rivals, while Dragons sit seven points behind Benetton Rugby in Conference B so will want to put pressure on the Italians.
Team news (Dragons): Pat Howard returns to Dragons’ back three, while the remainder of their backs retain their places.
Should Nicky Thomas come off the bench it will be for his first appearance in a Dragons shirt, while hooker Elliot Dee will be looking to replicate his man-of-the-match performance from last time out.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): Blues make two changes for the Welsh derby, with Rey Lee-Lo replacing Willis Halaholo, while Olly Robinson comes back at open-side.
His return means shift in the pack with Macauley Cook moving into the second row with Josh Navidi going to blindside.
Talking points: Blues head coach Danny Wilson said: “Facing our local rivals on Boxing Day, at a sold out Rodney Parade will be a great occasion and a great challenge for us.
“The Dragons are playing well at home and while we’ve had some good wins at the Arms Park the challenge now is to do it on the road.”
Dragons fly-half Gavin Henson said: “It’s been a while since I’ve been involved in them [regional derbies], so it’s nice to be back home.
“The Blues is a massive one for this region, there’s a bit of niggle there and I can gauge that from the boys already.”
Key battle: Gavin Henson takes on Gareth Anscombe, with the victor of the fly-half battle likely to play a large part in deciding the outcome of the game.
The Blues man has youth on his side, but will the big-game experience of Henson prove too much in the bubbling atmosphere of Rodney Parade?
Key stat: Cardiff Blues have won their last five encounters with Dragons.
Did you know? Dragons’ Ollie Griffiths made the most tackles in Round 10 of the Guinness PRO14 with 27, can he produce another sterling defensive display against Cardiff?
Dragons: H Amos, A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, P Howard, G Henson, D Babos, S Hobbs, E Dee, L Fairbrother, J Davies, C Hill, A Wainwright, J Benjamin, J Sheekey
Replacements: L Belcher, T Davies, N Thomas, R Landman, B Roach, S Pretorius, A O’Brien, J Rosser
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan, O Lane, G Smith, R Lee-Lo, A Summerhill, G Anscombe, T Williams, B Thyer, M Rees, A Peikrishvili, S Davies, M Cook, J Navidi, O Robinson, N Williams
Replacements: K Myhill, G Jenkins, K Assiratti, D Welch, J Turnbull, L Williams, J Evans, T James
Match officials – referee: Andrew Brace
AR1: Dan Jones
AR2: Adam Jones
TMO: Jon Mason
TV: BBC2 Wales 1.50pm
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Cardiff Blues held off a ferocious Dragons fightback to take the bragging rights at Rodney Parade with a 22-17 success.
Danny Wilson’s side looked in total control after an hour thanks to tries from Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo and Tom James which put them 19 points up.
However a pair of converted tries in quick succession from the Dragons, by Lloyd Fairbrother and then a penalty try, set up a grandstand finish.
The visitors held on, and move back up to fourth in Guinness PRO14 Conference A, but they were pushed all the way.
The Blues had an early chance to take the lead but Gareth Anscombe could not punish a home offside as he failed to split the uprights with his penalty attempt.
Despite the rainy conditions, both teams were playing with ambition, and on one promising attack Hallam Amos’ grubber through almost put in Ashton Hewitt.
Summerhill got back just in time but from the resulting five-metre scrums, Brad Thyer was penalised and eventually sent to the sin-bin.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity to strike for the Dragons but a knock-on saw the chance go begging.
With the man advantage Dragons were able to control possession and territory, but the visiting defence held well to keep them out.
And once Thyer returned it was the Blues who opened the scoring, Cory Hill collecting a ball in an offside position and Anscombe slotting the resulting three-pointer.
The Blues built on that with a fine team try, involving both wingers. Taking advantage of quick ball, Anscombe put Lee-Lo into space, he then passed inside to Owen Lane, across from the opposite wing. While his offload didn’t go to hand, Summerhill was able to nudge it on with his boot before dotting down, Anscombe’s conversion was off-target.
The Dragons pulled three points back before half-time, from the boot of Henson, but it was the visitors who led 8-3 at the break.
Things got even better for the Blues early in the second half as they again made the most of quick ball to cross once more.
This time it was Henson who raced up looking to cut off a Blues overlap, but he was caught out of position giving Lee-Lo a simple run-in. Anscombe’s conversion made it 15-3.
Henson could have cut the deficit but was off-target with a penalty attempt as the Dragons chased the game.
Instead it was the Blues who added a third try on the hour to effectively wrap up the win, Matthew Morgan getting outside Hewitt before finding James for the simple finish. Anscombe’s touchline conversion made it 22-3.
It was proving a tough afternoon for the Dragons but they hit back with a try from Fairbrother, set up by a lovely pop pass from Hill in the build-up.
And the comeback was well and truly on with seven minutes remaining when the Dragons turned to their driving maul, pushed the visitors back and earned a penalty try as it was pulled down.
Kirby Myhill was sin-binned for his troubles, and the deficit was back to 22-17.
That left the Dragons with a chance to earn an unlikely win, but in the difficult conditions, Cardiff were able to see out the remaining few minutes and take the derby success.