by Ben Jones
Pro14: Ulster v Dragons
Kick Off : 15:00
Venue: Kingspan Stadium.
THE Dragons travel to Ireland this weekend as they go in search of their first win over Ulster in Belfast in 12 years.
The Welsh outfit lost their opening game to Leinster in a 35-5 rout but do come off a 26-18 win over Zebre two weeks ago as they aim to win two games in a row in the Pro14 for the first time since November 2016.
Ulster boast the fortress that is the Kingspan Stadium where they have an unbeaten record that stretches back to October 2018. It’s two from two for the Ulstermen so far this term as they sit second to a bonus point in Conference A behind Leinster.
15) Rob Lyttle 14) Matt Faddes 13) James Hume 12) Stewart Moore 11) Louis Ludik 10) Ian Madigan 9) John Cooney 1) Eric O’Sullivan 2) John Andrew 3) Marty Moore 4) Alan O’Connor 5) Sam Carter (C) 6) Sean Reidy 7) Jordi Murphy 8) Marcell Coetzee
16) Adam McBurney 17) Kyle McCall 18) Ross Kane 19) Kieran Treadwell 20) Nick Timoney 21) David Shanahan 22) Bill Johnston 23) Michael Lowry
15) Jonah Holmes 14) Jared Rosser 13) Adam Warren 12) Jack Dixon 11) Ashton Hewitt 10) Sam Davies 9) Rhodri Williams (C) 1) Greg Bateman 2) Richard Hibbard 3) Lloyd Fairbrother 4) Joe Davies 5) Matthew Screech 6) Harrison Keddie 7) Taine Basham 8) Ollie Griffiths
16) Ellis Shipp 17) Brok Harris 18) Chris Coleman 19) Joe Maksymiw 20) Ben Fry 21) Travis Knoyle 22) Arwel Robson 23) Jamie Roberts
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR, 3rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Chris Busby (both IRFU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
For the Dragons, centre Nick Tompkins and flanker Aaron Wainwright are both missing as they are on international duty with Wales for the autumn. For Ulster, full back Jacob Stockdale and hooker Rob Herring are unavailable as they are in the Ireland squad for the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup.
PLAYERS TO WATCH?
Dragons and Welsh international Jonah Holmes is one to watch for the away side on Sunday. Signed from the Leicester Tigers, Holmes has a wealth of experience and will be a boost for the Dragons after being released by Wales to be eligible to play. He’s tall, strong and will always look to cause problems wherever he can.
For the Ulstermen, keep a keen eye on flanker Marcel Coetzee. A dominating display against the Ospreys two weeks ago that included a try, earned him the man of the match award and coach Dan McFarland believes that he deserves a recall to the Springboks for next month’s games. Coetzee is strong and powerful and keeps the legs moving. He’s tough to bring down and in a one on one, he’s more than likely going to run you over.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
The Dragons can hurt you on their day. With pace coming from both the wings and Williams at full back, you can easily find yourself pegged back and on the defensive. Jamie Roberts is a danger at centre as we’ve seen for Wales for years on end. Newport can look a bit shakey as we saw against Zebre. They weren’t at their best and the Italian side came back into it late on. They’ll need to get out of second gear if they are going to have even a slither of a chance against Ulster.
Ulster are one of the favourites for the Pro14 title once again after they fell short in the final last year to fellow countrymen Leinster. They’ve got strength in depth, they’ve got flair and they’ve got grit. They can hurt you from anywhere on the pitch, and they’ve got players who can turn a game on its head with a little bit of razzle dazzle. They’ve won both games with relative ease but you’ll want to catch them on an off day if you’re the Dragons.
POINT TO PROVE?
Dragons Ashton Hewitt will want to put in a good performance as he was left out of Wayne Pivac’s squad for the upcoming Wales internationals. The winger was the only shining light as the Dragons were embarrassed by Leinster. He made a serious case to be picked for Wales but with the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, George North and Josh Adams already as wingers, it was always going to be hard to displace them. Let’s see if Hewitt can put in another good performance against an Irish outlet.
Marcel Coetzee will have a point to prove. He’s the player to watch but he’s also one that will need to carry on performing the way he is if he’s going to get recalled to the South African squad. As World Cup winners, it’s inevitably going to be hard to get into the team but the flanker has been excellent for the Ulstermen so far this season, and he’ll definitely be on Rassie Erasmus’ radar.
I believe that Ulster are going to take this one quite easily. They’ve looked like a side wanting to go one better this year and win the Pro14 and I think they’ll sweep the Dragons aside on Sunday. The Dragons can be buoyed by their win last time out and they’re going to have to have 15 players putting in a ten-out-of-ten performance and hope that Ulster have an off day to get a result. All the stats point towards an Ulster win and I can’t see anything else.