Preview: Dragons v Cardiff Blues

Date published: December 24 2015

Newport Gwent Dragons skipper Thomas Rhys Thomas returns to the starting XV at Rodney Parade against Cardiff Blues.

The international hooker is one of five changes to the team that beat Pau in France in the Challenge Cup which sees the Welsh Region take the top spot of their European pool.

Sunday's match sees the Dragons return to the PRO12 tournament and take on their rivals Cardiff Blues in the annual Christmas derby. The Welsh Regions last encounter saw the Dragons take a win of 25-21 at Rodney Parade in the Challenge Cup quarter-final.

The back three of the Dragons team remains unchanged with full-back Carl Meyer joining wings Nick Scott and Ashton Hewitt.

Centre Adam Hughes, who recently signed a deal with the Men of Gwent, retains his position and is joined by fellow centre Adam Warren. 24-year-old Dorian Jones moves from the bench to start as fly-half and joins scrum-half Sarel Pretorius in the half-backs.

The front row has two changes as prop Phil Price is joined by skipper Thomas Rhys Thomas and South African prop Brok Harris. 

The second row has one change made to it as Matthew Screech lines up alongside Rynard Landman.

Flankers Nick Crosswell and Nic Cudd retain their places in the back row and after suffering a knee injury against Pau last weekend Taulupe Faletau sits out this derby with Lewis Evans taking his place.

Meanwhile, scrum-half Lloyd Williams returns to the starting line-up as Cardiff Blues make the short journey to Newport Gwent Dragons.

Wales international Williams is one of three changes made by head coach Danny Wilson for the big clash at Rodney Parade.

Lock James Down returns in the second row while Josh Turnbull come in to wear the number six jersey.

Centre Cory Allen could make his comeback, after injuring his hamstring in the Rugby World Cup, as he is named among the replacements.

Head coach Danny Wilson said: "I have been on both sides of playing at Rodney Parade. Early in my coaching career I was at Dragons and saw the home advantage they have. They have a passionate crowd and it's a great venue to play at.

"The away challenge of playing at Rodney Parade is well documented; you have got to go there extremely motivated and use it as a driving force to your performance.

"It's a derby game so we have to try and keep the crowd quiet and try to take the sting out of the Dragons. It's a game we are all looking forward to.

"These games are the closet you get to an international and huge for everyone involved. We want to come out of these with performances and wins to give all involved a good Christmas and New Year.”

Form: Newport Gwent Dragons have won their last three matches in all tournaments but in the PRO12 their most recent victory at home to Munster in the last round ended a three game losing run. Dragons have lost just once at Rodney Parade in their last ten encounters in all tournaments: 12-19 to Ulster in the PRO12 on 8 November. Cardiff Blues' 20-16 victory at home to Connacht in Round 9 ended a seven game losing streak in the PRO12. The Blues have lost their last 11 away games in the PRO12 – their worst ever such run – since they beat the Dragons at Rodney Parade on New Year’s Day. The two teams clashed on three occasions last season with the away side taking each fixture in the PRO12 but Dragons winning 25-21 at Rodney Parade in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup. 

The teams:

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Nick Scott, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Dorian Jones, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas (c), 1 Phil Price
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Ollie Griffiths, 21 Luc Jones, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Ross Wardle

Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo,  11 Tom James, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Manoa Vosawai, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 James Down, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c)
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Cory Allen, 23 Dan Fish

Date: Sunday, December 27
Venue: Rodney Parade
Kick-off: 15:05 GMT
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessey (Wales), Sean Brickell (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)