Ulster Rugby v Dragons


Europe may remain the most prominent, even important, topic in newsprint and on the airwaves, but for tonight’s rugby protagonists concerns on progress there are overtaken by all- important domestic matters.


The Guinness PRO14 campaign is more than just the ‘bread-and-butter’ competition, it is also the platform for ambitions elsewhere. The coaches, players and supporters prioritise performance and results in a league which has grown in quality and, more questionably, in its geographical spread. The visitors to Kingspan Stadium this weekend may not have the storied rugby history of other clubs in the PRO14, but ask any Ulster player or fan about trips to Rodney Parade in Newport and the recent memories are not filled with wondrous wins and great celebratory evenings in South Wales. Indeed, the Dragons summon up some of their most feisty and stubborn displays for games with Ulster, home and away. So don’t be misled by a look at the Conference B table and see seven points separating Ulster in fifth and the sixth- placed team in the division. Matches between these two crusty rivals have rarely won accolades for attacking enterprise and flair but when it comes to demanding character, grit, concentration and application they have often been models!

Northampton in the Challenge Cup, while Ulster will still be mourning the lack of accuracy and confidence at certain stages of the big Champions Cup loss at Racing 92. But the Dragons’ response to a 21-0 interval deficit was impressive, the English marauders doing just enough to win 35- 21. The respective coaches will understandably have drawn positives from those encounters, but the focus of Dan McFarland and Dragons’ Bernard Jackman, the former Ireland hooker, will be on improving lacklustre recent form in the PRO14. The former might properly claim that wins against Scarlets, Edinburgh and six points gained in a two-game trip to South Africa trumps the victories secured by Dragons against Zebre and the Southern Kings, but these hugely intelligent Head Coaches know neither record amounts to ‘form’ in the sense of potential trophy-winning seasons. Jackman has earned his ‘stripes’ in the sport as a player and coach, battling injury to stay in international contention for so long at hooker before embarking on his route to management. He quickly caught the eye in France, learning just as much as he taught, and making Grenoble credible contenders in one of Europe’s most ruthless leagues, and on a limited budget.

The Welsh arrive in Belfast after a disappointing defeat at home to



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