Currently seventh in the Magners League standings, Ulster have a chance to push away from the third-from-bottom Newport Gwent Dragons when they visit them on Sunday. Matt Williams’ men will be gunning for the province’s first win on Welsh soil since September 2006.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, February 22
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (8th) v ULSTER (7th), Rodney Parade, 4.10pm (live S4C/Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has named his team to take on Welsh side Newport Gwent Dragons this Sunday at Rodney Parade.
Kieron Dawson will captain an Ulster side that sees the return of Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Isaac Boss, Ian Humphreys, Darren Cave and Andrew Trimble from Ireland ‘A’ duty.
Scrum half Cillian Willis is back in the matchday 22 after injury. He will start his first game back on the replacements bench, with Isaac Boss donning the number 9 jersey.
Tom Court, Simon Danielli and Carlo Del Fava have all been temporary released from their respective national camps, in this RBS 6 Nations down week.
Chris Henry has retained his place in the Ulster line-up after impressive performances in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup pool stages.
Commenting on what will be his third start for Ulster at senior level, Henry said: “I knew the competition in Ulster was always going to be tough and at the moment my focus is week to week. But my main goal was to get time on the pitch this season.
“In the last few weeks in the Ireland Sevens camp I’ve worked on fitness and speed. I’d like to be seen as a realistic option and versatile in the back row. That’s what I’d like to push.”
He added: “I just can’t wait to get onto the pitch, this week has been really good with everybody just getting back into it.
“The Dragons have played very well this season and they have put in some great performances at times.
“It’s a big week for us because we are pretty much level on points with them.
“It’s a massive game for us in regards to the table and we need to go there and get the win.
“Every player has a responsibility, when they are with Ireland they’re on Irish duty and when they are with Ulster they’re on Ulster duty. We’re going to the Dragons to win and everybody has to perform.”
Ulster currently sit one point ahead of the Dragons, heading into Sunday’s match.
With both sides having won four and lost six of their Magners League games this season, this is a must-win game for Williams’ charges.
Meanwhile, Martyn Thomas, Joe Bearman and Richard Parks all return from injury to boost the Dragons side.
Welsh international full-back Kevin Morgan returns from a seven-month absence with an Achilles tendon injury to take his place amongst the replacements.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Jason Tovey; Martyn Thomas, Rhodri Gomer Davies, Ashley Smith, Richard Fussell; Shaun Connor, Wayne Evans; Adam Black, Tom Willis (capt), Rhys Thomas, Adam Jones, Hoani Macdonald, Joe Bearman, Richard Parks, Lewis Evans.
Replacements: Steve Jones, Nigel Hall, Andrew Hall, Grant Webb, Phillip Dollman, Kevin Morgan, Rob Lewis.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paul Steinmetz, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, David Pollock, Kieron Dawson (capt), Chris Henry.
Replacements: Stuart Phillpott, Bryan Young, Carlo Del Fava, Matt McCullough, Cillian Willis, Ian Whitten, Niall O’Connor.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Neil Ballard, David Swain (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Huw Lewis (Wales)
Say What: Paul Turner (Dragons) – “I’m pleased Kevin (Morgan) and Joe (Bearman) both came through Monday night’s development match against the Ospreys.
“We still have a few injuries so I’m contemplating putting Kevin in the team for Sunday, although I would have liked him to get a bit more pitch time under his belt.
“We saw the old Kev on Monday night, the old step and dart and the injury didn’t seem to be a problem.
“Ulster are a structurally good side and you only have to look at their result over Munster at Thormond Park to know what they are capable of.
“They are a lot like us in many ways and they will have built up confidence on the back of a couple of wins. Sunday’s game is very important with the small points difference between us and we have to move up the league.”
Matt Williams (Ulster) – “The players haven’t actually had as much time as we had hoped, Carlo Del Fava was on the bench for Italy and the majority of the squad were with Ireland ‘A’ and their first game was called off.
“Darren Cave was ill and only lasted a few minutes for Ireland ‘A’ while Ian Humphreys and Isaac Boss played out of position.
“We’re coming in a long way from were we where. Having said that the pluses are we’re fresh, we’ve got some good conditioning under the belt because the more games you play you lose some of that conditioning.
“The Dragons are in a similar boat in the fact that they haven’t played a lot of rugby. They played a trial game against the Ospreys last week and they probably have a fair advantage on us that way.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Dragons: James Arlidge 53; Ulster: Ian Humphreys 62; Tries: Dragons: Richard Fussell 6; Ulster: Darren Cave, Timoci Nagusa 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, March 25, 2006 – Ulster 24 Newport Gwent Dragons 17, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 9, 2006 – Newport Gwent Dragons 25 Ulster 32, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 16, 2007 – Ulster 14 Newport Gwent Dragons 7, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 6, 2007 – Newport Gwent Dragons 31 Ulster 11, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 15, 2008 – Ulster 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, Ravenhill
Friday, September 19, 2008 – Ulster 14 Newport Gwent Dragons 16, Ravenhill
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won just one of their last five matches in all competitions (a 25-20 success at Glasgow in the Magners League on January 9)
– The Dragons have won only one of their last four games at Rodney Parade. They beat the Ospreys 30-24 on December 19 last
– Ulster’s only away win to date since November 2007 has been their 37-11 dismissal of Munster on January 3
– The Ulstermen have won just one of their last nine games against Welsh opponents (26-16 at home to the Scarlets on December 5). Ulster’s last win in Wales was a 32-25 triumph over the Dragons at Rodney Parade on September 9, 2006
– The Dragons have won two of their last three games against Ulster. The Irish province have won twice on their six previous visits to Newport