Preview: Dragons v Cardiff Blues

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This weekend sees Cardiff Blues travel east to Rodney Parade for a date with the Dragons in what will be the first Welsh derby of the season, and of John Mulvihill’s reign.

The match also brings to a close the first block of fixtures in the Guinness Pro14, with the visitors hunting to finish it on a high after three straight wins following those three late losses to start the campaign.

Last week’s 24-21 comeback win over Cheetahs at the Arms Park pushed us up to fourth in Conference A despite that slow start to the season results-wise, and another victory this weekend could jump Cardiff Blues up to the giddy heights of second with Munster and Ospreys travelling to Leinster and Scarlets, respectively.

The omens are good for the team, with six straight wins over the Dragons stretching back to a Challenge Cup quarter-final at Rodney Parade in April 2015, but as we well know form goes out the window at Welsh derbies, and actually this is a much-changed Dragons side.

Matthew Morgan Dragons
Cardiff Blues overcame Dragons at a wet Rodney Parade last Boxing Day

After taking a year to evaluate his squad, head coach Bernard Jackman has settled on a group of players to take his side forward, with 16 summer signings complimenting them including the experience of Richard Hibbard, the quality of Ross Moriarty, the excitement of Rhodri and Jordan Williams, and the grunt of Brandon Nansen.

On the back of this Dragons have already matched last season’s tally of two wins in the Pro14, having dispatched of Zebre and Southern Kings at Rodney Parade, while there was a narrow defeat to Benetton and a valiant effort against Glasgow up at Scotstoun.

That game up in Scotland saw Jackman rest a number of players who are now welcomed back into the side ahead of the derby. A new look front row sees Brok Harris, Elliott Dee and Leon Brown pack down, while captain Cory Hill returns in the second row.

Wales internationals Olli Griffiths and Ross Moriarty join Aaron Wainwright in the back row, and there is a new half-back partnership as Rhodri Williams and Josh Lewis are recalled. Richard Hibbard and Tyler Morgan are named amongst the replacements after recovering from injury.

Dragons: Jordan Williams, Dafydd Howells, Adam Warren, Jarryd Sage, Jared Rosser, Josh Lewis, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Brandon Nansen, Cory Hill (c), Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths, Ross Moriarty

Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington, Aaron Jarvis, Huw Taylor, Nic Cudd, Tavis Knoyle, Tyler Morgan, Will Talbot-Davies

Ross Moriarty Dragons
Ross Moriarty is back in the Dragons starting line-up

There are also changes made to the Cardiff Blues team, after that win against Cheetahs last week in which John Mulvhill rested players of his own.

Brad Thyer and Dmitri Arhip return to partner Kris Dacey up front, while the re-introduction of Josh Navidi and Nick Williams sparks a mini-reshuffle in the rest of the forward pack as Josh Turnbull moves up to second row to replace Rory Thornton.

There is just a solitary change in the backs, as Lloyd Williams is preferred to Tomos Williams at scrum-half while on the bench there is a return for Jarrod Evans after two weeks out with illness.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Jason Harries, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins (c), Nick Williams

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Gill, Dillon Lewis, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith

Lloyd Williams Cheetahs 3
Lloyd Williams starts after scoring against the Cheetahs

With the weather looking somewhat wet in Newport on Saturday, Cardiff Blues will be desperately hoping to avoid being dragged into any sort of forwards battle against what will be a typically attritional Dragons side.

If the clouds disperse and the visitors can stamp authority on the game in such a way that the three-quarter line get the chance to run at a still shaky looking home defence then we’ll be stood in good stead. That’s a big if though.

As we know when heading to Rodney Parade, the crowd are right on top of the game and when Dragons get some momentum behind them any game can quickly change. It’s going to take a huge effort to come away from there with the win to round off this fixture block in convincing fashion and to take into Heineken Cup action. Come on Cardiff!

Stats

Dragons form: LWLWL

Cardiff Blues form: LLLWW

Dragons top try scorer: Dafydd Howells (2)

Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Rey Lee-Lo (3)

Dragons top points scorer: Josh Lewis (25)

Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Gareth Anscombe (49)

Ref Watch

Ian Davies (WAL) – The Welshman takes charge of this fixture some 18 months after refereeing the same game at Caerphilly in May 2017. Cardiff Blues are six games unbeaten with Davies in charge, stretching back to 2015.

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