Preview: Dragons v Connacht

Date published: November 3 2016

Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones has named his side to take on the current PRO12 champions Connacht at Rodney Parade on Friday.

Full-back Tom Prydie retains his position in the back three and is joined by wingers Pat Howard and Ashton Hewitt. The centre partnership remains unchanged with Sam Beard and Jack Dixon getting the nod.

Fly-half Angus O’Brien returns from illness to replace Nick Macleod, and is joined in the halfbacks by scrum-half Sarel Pretorius.

The front row has one change made to it as loosehead prop Phil Price joins hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas and tighthead prop Brok Harris.

The second row also retain their positions with Nick Crosswell and Rynard Landman at lock, with the back row consisting of flankers Lewis Evans and Ollie Griffiths and number eight Ed Jackson.

The replacements bench sees Sam Hobbs, Nic Cudd and Tavis Knoyle join Rhys Buckley, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Geraint Rhys Jones and Adam Warren.

The Men of Gwent are looking to take away the win from their visitors, meaning the Welsh Region could jump Connacht in the PRO12 table. 

Dragons lock and vice-captain of the region, Nick Crosswell commented: “We can jump Connacht with a win and can then look at the next team. A win would be massive for morale and jumping ahead of Connacht would be massive. 

“Connacht will be disappointed with a few of their performances coming off winning the Pro12 but they are dangerous with a really tight pack,” he said.

“They do the basics well – they carry hard, clean our rucks hard and tackle hard. We are after every win we can get and know we have to dig deep.”

“Week in, week out we play some good rugby but haven’t got the results. We don’t make any excuses, we put our hands up to what we have lacked and where we’ve got to be better.

“We had an awesome result against a top French side in Brive last time we were at home (a win of 37-16) and we love being at Rodney Parade. It’s good to be back in front of our home crowd after a tough couple of weeks.”

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made five changes to his run-on side.

Bundee Aki returns to the starting line-up and partners Peter Robb in midfield. 25-year-old Stacey Ili will make his first PRO12 start on the wing while Monivea-man Caolin Blade comes in at scrumhalf.

There are two changes up front as hooker and last week’s try scorer Shane Delahunt is promoted from the bench and Eoin McKeon returns to the back row.

Academy prop Saba Meunargia has returned from injury to be included among the replacements. If called upon, the 22-year-old will make his first PRO12 appearance, having featured twice in the European Challenge Cup.

Following injuries and international call-ups, James Connolly and Shane O’Leary have both been recalled to the bench while Academy back Conor McKeon, who has recently transitioned from outhalf to scrumhalf, has been named in his first match day squad this season.

Speaking ahead of the game, Lam said: "It’s always tough for us going over to Rodney Parade. Even when we’ve been successful there, they were always hard-fought wins. Dragons, under Kingsley Jones, have changed their mind set in terms of how they like to play the game and they certainly use the ball a lot more. 

"It’s set up to be a good game of rugby but we have to remain focused on our own jobs.

"Our mental preparation is vital, particularly in another short week where we are on the road for the third week in a row. It’s the last game before a two-week break in fixtures so, as a group, we are determined to right the wrongs from a disappointing performance last time out."

Form: Dragons' solitary victory in the PRO12 since the end of January was 11-6 at home to Zebre on 9 September. Dragons won their most recent fixture at Rodney Parade: 37-16 over Brive in the European Challenge Cup but have not won successive matches at the venue since the New Year. Connacht’s four game winning run in all tournaments ended with their defeat at Leinster on Saturday. The PRO12 champions have not been victorious away from home in the Championship since a trip to Edinburgh in early March. Connacht have won their last seven encounters with Dragons since the Men from Gwent were victorious 14-3 at Rodney Parade in November 2012.

The teams:

Dragons: 15 Tom Prydie, 14 Pat Howard, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Lewis Evans (c), 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas, 1 Phil Price 
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Matthew Screech, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Geriant Rhys Jones, 23 Adam Warren

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 JP Cooney 
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Saba Meunargia, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 James Connolly, 21 Conor McKeon, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Cian Kelleher


Date: Friday, 4 November
Venue: Rodney Parade
Kick-off: 19:15
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Jason Bessant (Wales)