A losing bonus point in Newport will be enough to book Ulster’s place in the Magners League semi-finals, but the Rory Best-led province will undoubtedly want to finish the league phase with a morale-boosting away win.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 6
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (7th) v ULSTER (3rd), Rodney Parade, 7.05pm (live BBC Northern Ireland (red button)/S4C)
Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has named his starting line-up and replacements to face the Newport Gwent Dragons in their decisive Magners League clash at Rodney Parade on Friday.
Props Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick have returned to full fitness and will pack down alongside captain Rory Best in Ulster’s front row. Their return to action sees Paddy McAllister and Jerry Cronin named among the replacements.
Willie Faloon suffered a shoulder injury in training and is unavailable for selection so Robbie Diack is promoted from the bench to start at number 8.
As a result, Pedrie Wannenburg moves to blindside flanker and Chris Henry switches to the openside flank. Thomas Anderson, who will join Connacht in the summer, will start on the bench as back row cover.
The province’s back-line is unchanged from the win over Connacht at Ravenhill two weeks ago, with Darren Cave and IRUPA Young Player of the Year Nevin Spence continuing their centre partnership.
Ireland internationals Stephen Ferris (knee), Paddy Wallace (thumb) and Andrew Trimble (thumb) remain unavailable for selection due to injury, as does Springbok prop BJ Botha who has a knee injury.
Ulster require only a losing bonus point against the Dragons to ensure progression to the Magners League play-offs.
However, a win for the Ulstermen, coupled with a defeat for Leinster against Glasgow, would secure a home semi-final spot for McLaughlin’s men.
Meanwhile, Cross Keys youngster Steffan Jones has been given the nod at full-back for the Newport Gwent Dragons’ final match of the season.
“I’m delighted to be playing again for the region,” said Jones, who kicked a drop goal in their recent derby win over the Cardiff Blues.
“It’s just about being given an opportunity to prove yourself and obviously the last game couldn’t have gone much better for me.”
In a largely unchanged side from the landmark victory against their local rivals, Pat Leach replaces centre Ashley Smith, who is to be rested, and Dan Way comes in for Ben Castle in the front row.
“Ashley could have made it this weekend,” explained newly-appointed Dragons head coach Darren Edwards.
“But he has worked really hard all season and we wanted to look after him to make sure he’s ready for next season. We also wanted to take to opportunity to further expose Dan Way to Magners League rugby.”
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Stefan Jones; Adam Hughes, Tom Riley, Pat Leach, Aled Brew; Jason Tovey, Wayne Evans; Phil Price, Lloyd Burns, Dan Way, Luke Charteris (capt), Adam Jones, Danny Lydiate, Gavin Thomas, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Tom Willis, Hugh Gustafson, Ben Castle, Andrew Coombs, Joe Bearman, Matthew Watkins, Jon Evans, Mathew Jones.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Conor Gilroy, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Jerry Cronin, Tim Barker, Thomas Anderson, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Conor Gaston.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Gwyn Morris (both Wales)
Television Match Official: tbc
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 4/5; Draw: 18/1; Ulster to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Chris Henry (Ulster) – “We’ve put so much hard work in, so much blood and sweat and tears that it would be gutting, absolutely devastating, if we don’t get something now.
“So that’s what the focus is on…making sure we go over to Newport and grab every point we can.
“We’ve got so much to play for – for ourselves, for the fans and for everybody who has been involved this year – so we want to make sure we finish off well.
“The Dragons are a team that we usually have struggled with, but I think that if, as a team, we play well there is no reason why we shouldn’t go there and beat them.
“We are a better team so it’s just going to be a mental challenge for us now to go over there, focus on ourselves, turn up and get the points we need.
“It’s important that we get into the game well in the first 20 minutes. In the last couple of games the Dragons have got points up early and that has done well for them, so we’ve got to counteract that and let them know that we’re there to play rugby.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “It’s good to be honest because we didn’t want a dead rubber at the end of the season. From our point of view we want to keep it going, while Ulster are chasing a play-off spot.
“If we can do a really good job on Ulster, we might get two Welsh teams (the Blues and the Ospreys) in the play-offs, which is good for our rugby.
“I think we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves. That’s the most important thing here.
“Our last month playing here has been outstanding. I think we’ve created a great environment on the field and off the field. It’s good to see so many people smiling.
“It’s really good that we’ve got Ulster coming here looking for a play-off spot and we’re trying to carry on what we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. There will be two teams trying to make a really good game of it.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 139; Tries: Aled Brew 12; Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 119; Tries: Craig Gilroy 8
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, February 15, 2008 – Ulster 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 13, Ravenhill
Friday, September 19, 2008 – Ulster 14 Newport Gwent Dragons 16, Ravenhill
Sunday, February 22, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 26 Ulster 16, Rodney Parade
Sunday, September 6, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 23 Ulster 6, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 19, 2010 – Ulster 22 Newport Gwent Dragons 22, Ravenhill
Thursday, March 18, 2010 – Ulster 25 Newport Gwent Dragons 23, Ravenhill
– The Ulstermen have not won at Rodney Parade since September 2006
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won three of their last four matches, but have lost their last three encounters with Irish opponents
– Ulster’s only defeat in their last eight Magners League games was a 34-26 loss at Leinster on April 16
– The province’s sole defeat to a Welsh region this season was 23-22 at the Ospreys in round 14
– Ulster beat the Dragons 25-23 at Ravenhill on March 18 and have only once before achieved a league double over the Welshmen – during the 2005/06 campaign