Belfast Telegraph

Injury-ravaged Dragons come to Ulster to enjoy game

By Michael Sadlier

It's been one of those weeks when just getting on with it and blocking out the distractions has been the mantra at the Newport Gwent Dragons.

Not that it's been easy to just get on. Last week's European Challenge Cup 30-26 home defeat to Newcastle Falcons cut them to the quick, especially after their first round heroics when they shredded all expectations by getting the better of Stade Francais in Paris in a stunning 38-22 victory.

And not only did the skies darken after the Falcons result, but this week the Dragons have found themselves racked by an injury crisis which has sidelined 10 frontline players in their squad, including skipper Lee Byrne.

It has left head coach Kingsley Jones with a fairly patched together side at the Kingspan and with their most recent win in Belfast being back in 2008, there is a sense of even less expectation than normal.

Their cause has also been damaged by the loss of three players to the national squad with Taulupe Faletau, Tom Prydie and Hallam Amos all currently with Warren Gatland.

So, resources are down to the bare bones for Belfast with, in addition to full-back Byrne, second rows Andrew Coombs, Ian Gough, Matthew Screech, Cory Hill and Joe Davies all on the treatment table while centres Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Ross Wardle and Pat Leach are all out, along with flanker Nic Cudd.

Yes, things are that bad and with the results - bar the Stade shock - all being poor with the only PRO12 win being over the even more dreadful Treviso, it is quite understandable that expectation is not exactly soaring at the moment.

Hence the calls this week for the side to just forget the form-book and evoke the 'Stade spirit' by pulling something wholly unexpected out of the bag again.

"I've always had the philosophy, whether as a player or coach, that away from home you have everything to gain and nothing to lose," said Jones, trying to lighten the mood this week.

"They have to go to Ulster without fear and give it a go. We went to Stade Francais with the approach of enjoying ourselves and we won, so we have to do the same at Ulster."

The sense that the region's starting side will have no fear and just play without baggage tonight seems to pretty much be the only thing fuelling the Dragons' hopes.

Short-term loan signing Rhys Williams is parachuted straight in for his debut at centre alongside Ashley Smith who has recovered from a knock in a side with seven changes from the one which played the Falcons last week.

Still, there is a core of experience to be found in the side with Aled Brew on the wing while Jason Tovey brought back from club rugby. Up front, they have Thomas Rhys Thomas and former Wales international and Lion Andy Powell is also ready to do damage where he can.

Despite all their problems, they can cause problems but only, you sense, if permitted.

Belfast Telegraph

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