A struggling Dragons outfit will look to lean heavily on home advantage on Friday at 7.35pm against an Ulster team who put 50 points past the Welsh side in September.
Rodney Parade has proved a successful stomping ground for the Dragons who have lost just one home game this season.
What’s at stake? Ulster are level on points with second place Leinster in Conference B and will look to this game to leapfrog their Irish counterparts and get within touching distance of Scarlets.
Dragons meanwhile are entering the game with three losses on the bounce and only hold a six-point gap between themselves and bottom of the table Southern Kings.
If the Welsh side do get the victory they will only be two points adrift of fifth place Benetton.
Team news (Dragons): In the wake of signing Welsh International Ross Moriarty, head coach Bernard Jackman makes three changes to his side who were put to the sword by Leinster.
Young scrum-half Dan Babos is the only change in the backline while Brok Harris is called up from the bench to the front row, joining Dragons debutant Liam Belcher at hooker.
Joe Davies, who recently signed a contract extension with the club, comes into partner Matthew Screech at second row.
Team news (Ulster): Paul Marshall will make his 200th appearance for Ulster at scrum-half while Christian Lealiifano reverts to flyhalf and continues as captain.
Back rower Greg Jones and South African prop Schalk Van der Merwe make their first starts for the club as Irish International Sean Reidy returns in the back three.
Stuart McCloskey slots in from International duty to partner Tommy Bowe in the midfield, whilst Ireland captain Rory Best will look to come on from the bench.
Talking points: Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes said: “I would say over the first 18 weeks we’ve spent together there’s been plenty of good improvements.
“But there were a few clues on what we need to improve – we want to continue on the positive path that we’ve started.”
Looking back at last weekend’s performance, head coach Bernard Jackman said: “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.
“Now we have to make sure we get to the right pitch emotionally to perform against Ulster on Friday night.”
Key Battle: Paul Marshall v Dan Babos
It is the battle between young and old at scrum half on Friday with 17-year-old Babos contending with only his second appearance for the Dragons but also against Ulster stalwart Marshall.
Marshall will look to use his experience to spook the young buck and it will be up to the Welsh U18 International to be up the task.
Key Stat: Nick Timoney produced 19 tackles in Round Nine of the Guinness PRO14, only four players produced more.
Did you know? Ulster have won their last five fixtures with Dragons, including a 52-25 victory in Belfast in September.
Dragons: Angus O’Brien, Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Jared Rosser, Gavin Henson, Dan Babos, Brok Harris, Liam Belcher, Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin.
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Gerard Ellis, Sam Hobbs, Rynard Landman, Ben Roach, Charlie Davies, Arwel Robson, Pat Howard.
Ulster: Charles Piutau, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Christian Lealiifano, Paul Marshall, Schalk van der Merwe, John Andrew, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney;
Replacements: Rory Best, Callum Black, Andy Warwick, Matthew Dalton, Chris Henry, John Cooney, Peter Nelson, Andrew Trimble
Match officials – Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
AR1: Rhys Thomas (WRU)
AR2: Mike English (WRU)
TV: BBC Sport NI BBC Cymru TG4 (KO 7.35pm local)
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 be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Christian Lealiifano’s dramatic last-gasp try ensured Ulster left the Dragons with a share of the spoils in a pulsating encounter at Rodney Parade.
The fly-half touched down with the clock in the red to bring to an end the unlikely encounter which the hosts looked to have snatched right on the final whistle themselves through Ashton Hewitt.
Liam Belcher and Angus O’Brien also touched down in a three-try 11-minute period, adding to Matthew Screech’s score and Hewitt’s first of the night before the break.
But Ulster hung on and clawed their way back, with Craig Gilroy’s try double and Paul Marshall’s effort in the first half putting them in the box seat, also adding to a penalty score.
Great Ulster handling got the visitors flying high within ten minutes as Gilroy dotted down the opener, blitzing down the right flank after some impressive work through the hands.
The Irish province continued to threaten but Dragons got the next score through a powerful drive which saw Screech rumble over as Henson converted to cut the deficit to 8-7.
Henson’s boot put his side ahead, this time via a penalty, and the advantage was extended after an unfortunate slip from Louis Ludik allowed Hewitt to pounce.
The half was to end level however and it was no less than either side deserved, with Ulster’s impressive rolling maul eventually leading to a penalty try and a 15-15 scoreline.
But that wasn’t to last long as Ulster broke forward immediately from kick-off, with Gilroy’s work and Marshall’s quick-thinking leading to the scrum half rumbling over with 42 minutes on the clock.
In the groove, Ulster were seeking a bonus point and duly got it 15 minutes into the second half, Gilroy again on the scoreboard for his second of what was fast becoming an entertaining match.
But Dragons were not to give up without a fight and got themselves back in the contest with Belcher the man to dot down.
The hooker made the most of some excellent work from the line-out, driving over to set up a grandstand finish with seven points the difference and 13 minutes remaining.
O’Brien then got in on the act, finishing off some lovely skill, and the hosts even got the lead with their fifth try of the evening as Hewitt flew over into the corner to send all parts of Rodney Parade into pandemonium.
But the final word was to come from the visitors, taking three hard-earned points as Lealiifano dotted down – though he wasn’t able to convert as the game ended in truly breathless scenes.
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
30 Nov 2017
30 Nov 2017