The Dragons will look to bounce back from last weekend’s heavy defeat in Italy when they take on Ulster at Rodney Parade on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
What’s at stake?
The Dragons had a rough outing away to Benetton in Round 16, conceding a half-century of points to the Italians.
Now, they host an Ulster team who have not lost since early January and sit in third in Conference B. With Edinburgh playing on Saturday, the Belfast side could have dropped out of the play-off spots by kick-off and will need a win to keep the pressure on at the top.
Team news (Dragons)
This will be the Dragons’ final game at Rodney Parade this season and Ceri Jones has made nine changes to the team that lost in Treviso.
One of those sees Hallam Amos back and starting on the wing, while Josh Lewis starts at fly-half and Jordan Williams is back at full-back.
In the pack, there is a start for Wales Under-20s back-rower Taine Basham.
Team news (Ulster)
Ulster, meanwhile, have made just three changes to the team which beat Zebre last week, with Jordi Murphy coming into the back row.
He will line up alongside Sean Reidy, who is making his 100th appearance for the province. The other changes are in the half-backs, where John Cooney is back from international duty, like Murphy, and starts at scrum-half, alongside Billy Burns.
Dragons head coach Ceri Jones said: “We’ve had a really good look at the make-up of the side because there are a lot of players vying for positions and some didn’t perform in Italy, and they know that.
“The video review we did was tough and we need to learn from last week quickly and move forward
“Ulster are very powerful and scored three driving maul tries against Zebre last week. That is an area we have been strong in but we recognise the threat from them.
“Ulster have played well lately, so it is going to be tough. But we plan to go out there and put our best performance on the pitch.”
Ulster captain Rob Herring said: “Over the last few years, we haven’t done too well at the Dragons. We have had a few scrappy games and we’ve probably just come through a few of them on the right side.
“We’ve had a couple of good games now (beating the Ospreys away and Zebre at home) and we’ve got to keep the momentum going and create another bit of buzz away this weekend.”
Key battle – Taine Basham v Jordi Murphy
The back-row battle should be entertaining and on the flank, it is a contrast of youth and experience, with Taine Basham lining up against Jordi Murphy at openside.
The former has been a standout for Wales Under-20s this year and looks ready to take the next step.
He will go up against Murphy, the vastly experienced Ireland international, who started at No.8 last week in Rome against Italy. It will certainly be a test for Basham, but a good gauge of where he stands at the moment.
Key fact: Ulster are unbeaten in their last seven games against the Dragons. However, the last meeting between the sides at Rodney Parade finished 32-32 with both sides scoring five tries.
Did you know? Sean Reidy will make his 100th appearance for UIster against the same team he faced on debut back in November 2014. That day, at the Kingspan Stadium, Ulster ran out 23-6 winners.
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Hallam Amos, Adam Warren, Jarryd Sage, Dafydd Howells, Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (c), Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Huw Taylor, Taine Basham, Harri Keddie
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Josh Reynolds, Leon Brown, Max Williams, Lennon Greggains, Tavis Knoyle, Jason Tovey, Tyler Morgan
Ulster: Louis Ludik, Robert Baloucoune, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor (c), Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney
Replacements: Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst, Ian Nagle, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, James Hume, Peter Nelson
TV: At Rodney Parade, Newport, 3pm. Live on Premier Sports 2, DAZN and Super Sport 1.
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones (WRU), Gareth John (WRU)
TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU)
Ulster dug deep to withstand a late Dragons charge as they notched up a bonus-point 28-15 win over the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Despite closing out proceedings with 13 men, a pair of quickfire scores early in the second half through Marty Moore and John Cooney gave them the buffer they needed after a tightly-fought first half.
Dragons looked to make the most of their two-man advantage at the death to seal a losing bonus-point, but were held out by spirited Ulster resolve in a battling manner that had become a hallmark of the visitors’ performance.
There was little to split the sides in the opening quarter at a blustery Rodney Parade, the wind playing a factor as Rhodri Williams hoisted a series of deep kicks into Ulster territory as the Dragons were propelled by Storm Freya in the first 40.
Josh Lewis split the posts with a penalty to opening the scoring, making the kick look routine in spite of the spiralling breeze, but the visitors were the first to cross the whitewash.
Relentless pressure saw Ulster go through countless phases deep into Dragons territory, and despite an impressive defensive rearguard, the dam eventually broke when Jordi Murphy forced his way over.
John Cooney converted before Dragons missed the opportunity to reduce arrears immediately to one, Lewis blazing his effort wide right.
Jordan Williams was at the heart of things when he hauled down Robert Baloucoune as the Ulster wing charged to the corner, saving a certain try in spectacular fashion.
Darren Cave was sent to the bin for an early tackle on Lewis, but the Dragons weren’t able to capitalise before the break.
And despite being down to 14, it was Ulster who struck first in the second 40, the wind again playing it’s part as they found themselves with a threatening line-out on the Dragons 5m line, the driving maul taking them close before Moore finished the job.
They added a third almost immediately when Baloucoune gathered Rhodri Williams’ errant kick before Cooney burst through the gap created to dot down.
But the Dragons refused to be cowed and when first Rob Lyttle and then Louis Ludik were shown yellow for deliberate knock-ons the hosts had hope.
They were rewarded a penalty try for the latter’s sin-bin, leaving Ulster to try to see out the game in precarious circumstances: with 13 men and an 11-point advantage to their name.
And they did so with discipline in abundance, protecting the ball as they kept it narrow and edged towards the Dragons line, with Alan O’Connor spotting a gap to crash through and seal the bonus-point.
Taine Basham grabbed one back for the Dragons in a score that was just reward for the youngster’s standout performance, setting up a late push for a losing bonus-point.
But it wasn’t to be, as Ulster stole the ball and heaved into touch to spoil the party.