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Ulster will need accuracy and the crowd to quell Dragons

Ulster will need accuracy and the crowd to quell Dragons

Ulster will need to be more accurate and feed off their support in order to overcome an impressive Dragons side tonight at Ravenhill (7.05 pm).

Interesting odds being offered by Paddy Power on this one. Despite the fact that Ulster are 10-1 to win the Celtic League as against The Dragons 2-1 (second favourites), this match is called as fifty-fifty by the same company, neither team being given an advantage in the handicap betting.

Granted, Ulster are a few points behind at this stage of the league, but still this amounts to a commentary on the fact that the match is at Ravenhill, rather than Rodney Parade.

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Perhaps it is also a commentary on the fact that it is being played on Ulster’s preferred Friday night, as the afternoons haven’t been too kind to Ulster, having lost to both The Ospreys and Leinster in daylight.

There is a sense that this one could be a season-definer for Ulster. A third home defeat on the spin would take a deal of getting over. And yet, a formline through Leinster holds no positive auguries for them. The Dragons were impressive, especially out wide, when garnering a bonus point at home to Leinster last week, while Ulster are still in recovery mode from conceding a bonus point win to Leinster at Ravenhill.

If anything, The Dragons look stronger this week, with the return of captain Jason Forster at No. 8 freeing Michael Owen to return to the second row.

Nor can the Ulster camp be in the best of spirits given the hugely disappointing news received by Neil McMillan during the week. With Andy Ward also out injured the backrow resources are being stretched to the limit. If there was a day for Cameron Feather, who has looked quite useful, to imprint himself on the Ulster public consciousness, this would be a good one.

Leinster defended somewhat naively out wide last week, and, with the experience now in the Ulster backline, it can be expected that they will have a plan to counter that (umbrella defence, anyone?).

Ulster had to stew in the juices of idleness last week, following their disappointing display against the Ospreys. They have had a lot of time to consider what went wrong and to gear themselves up for this one.

Also, there have been signs that the Welsh aren’t going to have it all their own way through the remainder of this league – witness Edinburgh’s defeat of Cardiff, Munster’s of Llanelli last week.

The inclusion of Paul Steinmetz in place of Jonny Bell is an interesting call, and may add a creative link to get the most from the wider men. And up front, the return of Gary Longwell will be closely watched. It is to be hoped that he gives the pack a harder edge.

With home support wafting off the terraces, this could be the one that turns a corner for Mark McCall’s men. But they’re going to have to be smarter and more accurate than they have been to date in this tournament to bring home the Dragon’s bacon.

15 – Bryn Cunningham; 14 – Tommy Bowe; 13 – Kevin Maggs; 12 – Paul Steinmetz; 11 – Tyrone Howe; 10 – David Humphreys (Captain); 9 – Kieran Campbell; 1 – Simon Best; 2 – Paul Shields; 3 – Rod Moore; 4 – Gary Longwell; 5 – Matt McCullough; 6 – Campbell Feather; 7 – Neil Best; 8 – Roger Wilson

16 – Nigel Brady; 17 – Ronan McCormack; 18 – Rowan Frost; 19 – Matt Mustchin; 20 – Neil Doak; 21 – Paddy Wallace; 22 – Jonny Bell

The Dragons:
15 – K. Morgan; 14 – G. Wyatt; 13 – P. Montgomery; 12 – S. Tuipulotu; 11 – N. Brew; 10 – C. Sweeney; 9 – G. Cooper; 1 – R. Snow; 2 – S. Jones; 3 – R. Thomas; 4 – I. Gough; 5 – M. Owen; 6 – J. Ringer; 7 – R. Bryan; 8 – J. Forster

Replacements: TBC

Referee: M. Changleng (Scotland)