Preview: Dragons v Cardiff Blues

Date published: December 31 2014

Flanker Sam Warburton returns to the Cardiff Blues’ starting XV as they look to make a winning start to 2015 against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on New Year’s Day.

The Wales skipper’s return is one of eight changes to the side that lost to the Dragons on Boxing Day.

A new-look front row will see Gethin Jenkins, Kristian Dacey and Taufa’ao Filise all pack down in Newport.

Samoa international lock Filo Paulo also returns to the team and is paired with Jarrad Hoeata in the second row.

A new half back pairing will see Gareth Anscombe and Tavis Knoyle, who both impressed off the bench in the first of the double-header between the two teams, combine to launch the New Year.

The final change sees a place for Richard Smith on the wing, with Alex Cuthbert missing the game after being given a scheduled playing break by the coaching team at Blues.

Hooker Matthew Rees is also named among the replacements for Blues and will make his 150th appearance in the PRO12 if he comes off the bench at Rodney Parade.

Director of rugby Mark Hammett is relishing the second part of the derby double header with Dragons.

“It’s all set up to be an incredible fixture,” he said.

“All derby games are crucial and it was a real experience and honour to see what it means in the first game.

“If it’s the same intensity at Rodney Parade as it was at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, it’s going to be very special again.

“I’ve been told it will be noisy at Newport, everything you would want and expect.

“It’s a good thing and you should embrace the diversity of when you travel. We are looking forward to a big game to kick-off 2015.”

Meanwhile, Welsh international Taulupe Faletau has been deemed fit to start for the Dragons.

Faletau who took a knock during the Dragons win against Zebre at Rodney Parade, has been given the all clear to feature for the Men of Gwent, as they take on the Blues in the second derby.

The Dragons took a 23-17 win away from Cardiff Arms Park in their clash on Boxing Day and will be looking to take the spoils once again tomorrow (01/01/15).

Faletau is one of just three changes that have been made to the starting XV from the Boxing Day clash.

Full-back Tom Prydie retains his place in the back three alongside wings Matthew Pewtner and Hallam Amos. The young centre pairing of Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon also keep their places in the starting XV.

There is one change in the halfbacks as fly-half Jason Tovey is joined by Welsh international Richie Rees.

Winger Hallam Amos, who played against the Blues on Boxing Day commented: “First half especially we were really good and stuck to the game plan, got good territory and the points came.

“Across the park we played well and it was really nice to get the win. I’m really pleased with everyone’s performance. But as we said in the changing room it’s only half-time and we’ve got them at home.

“We’ve got to consolidate this win with a win tomorrow. It’s going to be a real battle at Rodney Parade.”

There is one change in the front row as Elliot Dee steps in for T. Rhys Thomas as hooker and joins props Phil Price and Brok Harris.

The second row remains the same with lock Andrew Coombs and last week’s Man of the Match Rynard Landman taking up their places. The back row has one change made to it as flankers James Thomas and Nic Cudd are joined by British and Irish lion Faletau.

The replacements bench also see three changes made to it as Hugh Gustafson, Andy Powell and Jonathan Evans join Owen Evans, Dan Way, Cory Hill, Dorian Jones and Geraint Rhys Jones.

Form: The Dragons have now won four matches in a row in all competitions since their 15-19 reversal to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun in Round Nine of the Guinness PRO12, but have not won five in a row since the 2004/05 season. Dragons won their most recent home game, 25-11 against Zebre, and have not won successive fixtures at Rodney Parade in the Guinness PRO12 since the turn of last year. This is the Dragons’ first New Year’s Day game at Rodney Parade since they beat Scarlets 15-13 there in 2008. Cardiff Blues’ only victory on the road in the Guinness PRO12 this season came on a visit to Zebre in Round One, whilst their only victory away from home to a fellow Welsh Region since 2010 came on 15 February 2012 on a visit to Rodney Parade to face the Dragons. The Men from Gwent beat the Blues at Cardiff Arms Park 23-17 on Boxing Day and are going for their first season’s double over their nearest rivals since 2003/04. The Blues have won just once in their last four visits to Newport.

The teams:

Dragons: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Matthew Pewtner, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Taulupe Faletau. 7 Nic Cudd, 6 James Thomas, 5 Rynard Landman (c), 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Dan Way, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Andy Powell, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Geraint Rhys Jones.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Lucas Amorosino, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Josh Navidi, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Taufa’ao Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Adam Thomas.

Date: Thursday, January 1
Kick-off: 14:05 GMT
Venue: Rodney Parade
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (Wales) and Simon Rees (Wales)
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)