THE players have put in a lot of hard work in preparing for the challenges that the Dragons will present tomorrow afternoon. It is a bit odd to be playing at home on a Saturday. Personally, I enjoy it as it gives us a full training week and harks back to a more traditional era when all matches were played on a Saturday afternoon.
After a performance brimful of character and composure against a good Scarlets team (on the back of the Ospreys loss, coming back from 17-3 down was no mean feat), we did not reach quite the same level against Ulster.
While Ulster clearly had the edge on us, I felt that the 30-0 scoreline was not a fair reflection of the night’s play.
The first half was relatively even, with Ulster scoring the only try from a shanked kick that we failed to secure.
In the second half, there were two critical moments. Firstly, in the 51st minute we were given a five-metre scrum after being held up over their line from a lineout maul. We were blown for a skew feed and they were able to relieve the pressure.
Secondly, in the 60th minute, with the score still at 13-0, our captain, Mike Coman, was yellow-carded for bringing down a maul. In the ten minutes that we were down to 14 men Ulster scored two tries, both from lineouts close to our line, and put the game beyond reach.
The meticulous review undertaken after the match, which involves objective refereeing expertise, makes for a convincing argument that neither the free kick for the skew feed nor the penalty and yellow card were justified. We will follow the normal protocol in giving our feedback.
In fairness, I must say that the officials have been good at putting up their hand where they have made an error.
Before I leave the Ulster game I would like to single out Ross Ford and James Hilterbrand for some praise.
On the Thursday night we departed for Belfast, Ross was unable to accompany us as he had been vomiting all night on the Wednesday. We only have two fit senior hookers so he simply had to play. We fully medicated him and he flew into Belfast on the afternoon of the game.
To complicate matters, James, our replacement hooker, came down with a bug on the Thursday night and spent the night vomiting. Our doctor did a great job in getting both of them to be able to play but full marks to them for playing a game that, in truth, neither should have played.
As I indicated earlier, the disappointment of the Ulster game has been put behind us and the return of our Scotland internationals Alasdair Dickinson and Dougie Fife as well as the availability of our vice- captain Grant Gilchrist (he went off at half-time against Ulster) has buoyed the spirits of the lads.
The Dragons have an experienced front five, led by the evergreen Welsh internationalist Ian Gough, and an outstanding loose trio in Nic Cudd, Andy Powell (ex-Wales internationalist) and current Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau.
In addition they have good young half backs and, all in all, they are a well-balanced team.
We know that the Dragons will “bring it” on Saturday and the boys are well aware that we’ll have to meet fire with fire. I’m sure we will.