Preview: Dragons v Connacht

Date published: March 21 2014

Welsh lock Andrew Coombs returns to the Dragons starting XV for Sunday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Rodney Parade.

Welsh lock Andrew Coombs returns to the Dragons starting XV for Sunday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Rodney Parade.

Skipper Coombs has made one appearance for the men of Gwent during his international duties and helped them gain a crucial victory against Glasgow Warriors.

He features in a starting line showing ten changes and one positional switch to the side that faced Ulster at the end of February.

Full-back Daniel Evans returns to the fold after being banned for five weeks for a dangerous tackle whilst playing against Newcastle Falcons.

“It's a big relief being able to play this weekend; no one likes to be out with a ban. I've had a good five weeks of hard training so I just can't wait to get back onto the field now and play,” said Evans.

“I feel refreshed after this time out and hopefully I can bring some energy to the game.”

Being back in the team and playing alongside both Coombs and Faletau, he added, “It's great to have the senior Welsh boys back here, they had a tough time during the six nations but they finished on a high. They are key players for us and are very influential when they do play. They will be a big boost at Sunday's game.”

Evans is joined in the back three by Tom Prydie, who is returning from an ankle injury, and Will Harries. The centre pairing takes on the form of young gun Ross Wardle and Under 20s star Jack Dixon. J

Jason Tovey returns from injury to take up the place of fly half and international scrum half Richie Rees retains his place at number nine.

The front row has one change to it as Hugh Gustafson steps into the position of hooker. He is joined by props Owen Evans and Bruce Douglas.

Lewis Evans is moved from number eight to blindside flanker and is joined in the back row by Nic Cudd and Netani Talei.

There have been seven changes made to the replacements bench.

Meanwhile, Connacht head cach Pat Lam has made no changes to his side for the first time this season .

Flanker John Muldoon will captain the side from a back row while Robbie Henshaw returns from Ireland camp to start at full-back.

The league's highest point scorer Dan Parks starts at fly-half in an otherwise all-Irish qualified squad this weekend.

On the bench, prop Ronan Loughney returns from injury while Darragh Leader is brought in amongst the replacement backs.

“It's been a while since our last outing but we're in good shape after training hard during the break,” said Lam.

“Coming off the back of three straight wins gives us confidence but we're very much aware that we haven't won four in a row in quite some time. We also have to look at the threat of the Dragons who are a strong outfit at Rodney Parade. They've only been narrowly beaten by Leinster and Munster at home. If you look at all the games they play there, their line speed is faster, their contact is faster.”

Form: Newport Gwent Dragons last six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day. The Dragons have not been defeated at Rodney Parade in the competition since Munster were the visitors in Round 9. The Welshmen have lost their last six matches against Irish provinces. Connacht have won their last three PRO12 fixtures but have not won four in a row in the competition since season 2002/03. Connacht have not won successive away games in the competition since March 2005. The Men from Gwent have won only one of their last five contests with Connacht: 14-3 at Rodney Parade in November 2012.

The teams:

Dragons: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Ross Wardle, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Will Harries, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Andrew Coombs (c), 3 Bruce Douglas, 2 Hugh Gustafson, 1 Owen Evans.
Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Phil Price, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Wayne Evans, 22 Ashley Smith, 23 Matthew Pewtner.

Connacht:15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Nathan White, 19 Michael Swift, 20 Andrew Browne, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Darragh Leader.

Date: Sunday, March 23
Venue: Rodney Parade
Kickoff: 15:05 GMT
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Simon Rees
TMO: Gareth Simmonds