Dragons captain Coombs eyeing Ulster scalp
CAPTAIN Andrew Coombs wants to make the RaboDirect Pro12 "sit up and take notice" of Newport Gwent Dragons by turning over last season's table-toppers on Friday.
The 28-year-old lock will lead from the front when the region open their campaign against an Ulster side that finished top of the pile in 2012/13 before losing to Leinster in the final.
The Irish heavyweights have won with a bonus point in their last three games against the Dragons, have been beaten by a Welsh region just once in their last 10 meetings (a home loss to the Ospreys in February) and have won their league opener for the last three seasons.
They will be a formidable outfit even without Springboks star Ruan Pienaar and British and Irish Lions aces Tommy Bowe and Rory Best but Coombs is looking to make a statement.
"Ulster is a great challenge," he said. "They finished top last year and are one of the strongest sides in the competition.
"But what better time to play them than first game of the season? It's an opportunity to catch them cold and if we can turn them over then we will have people sitting up and taking notice of us at the Dragons."
Friday's game at Rodney Parade is the start of a new era for the region, who finished one from bottom last term.
Director of rugby Lyn Jones and forwards coach Kingsley Jones arrived from London Welsh in June and promptly drew a line under last season's horror show, much to the delight of the squad.
And Coombs believes everyone – from 18-year-old Jack Dixon to 34-year-old Robert Sidoli – is thriving under the new regime.
"The younger players are developing under Lyn and Kingsley and even the older guys are learning," said the captain.
"They come with so much experience and we are walking off having learnt new things after every training session we have.
"The benefits of having these coaches around are brilliant for us. When they speak, you listen.
"Everyone has been given a fresh start and there is no better thing for players than you all being on a level playing field."
Number eight Toby Faletau is given more time off following his Lions exertions but Fijian international Netani Talei is poised for a debut in the back row following his move from Edinburgh.
Fly-half Kris Burton, scrum-half Richie Rees, hooker Rhys Thomas, tighthead Francisco Chaparro and lock Matthew Screech could also make their first appearances for the region.
- Dragons squad: D Evans, H Amos, T Prydie, W Harries, R Wardle, P Leach, J Dixon, A Hughes, K Burton, J Tovey, R Rees, J Evans; P Price, A Coundley, O Evans, R Thomas, H Gustafson, F Chaparro, N Buck, D Way, A Coombs, A Jones, M Screech, I Jones, L Evans, N Cudd, J Groves, N Talei.
Injuries: Steffan Jones (elbow), Darren Waters (knee), Lewis Robling (ankle)
- The Dragons Under-18s host their Scarlets counterparts at Cross Keys' Pandy Park this evening (kick-off 7.15pm).
The Rodney Parade young guns started their season with a loss to Cardiff Blues in the capital last week, prop Leon Brown crossing for their only try in a 22-10 loss.
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