FORWARDS coach Rob Appleyard admits Newport Gwent Dragons have a back row selection headache ahead of Friday’s crucial RaboDirect Pro12 clash with Connacht, writes Chris Kirwan.
The Dragons, one from bottom, desperately need to take the spoils at Rodney Parade to keep alive their hopes of reeling in Cardiff Blues in the battle for Heineken Cup rugby.
They have lost their last seven games – a regional record – but drew encouragement from a 30-20 LV= Cup loss to Northampton on Sunday when they went toe-to-toe with the powerful English side.
At the heart of their efforts were flankers Nic Cudd and Ieuan Jones, who played key roles in providing quick ball for a dangerous set of backs.
But with captain Lewis Evans back in the selection mix along with Jevon Groves, the Dragons coaching staff face some tough calls.
"Even without Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate we are faced with some real dilemmas but these are the sorts of headaches that we want," said Appleyard.
"Nic was excellent against Northampton and his work at the contact area could easily have earned him three or four more penalties or turnovers.
"He is an out-and-out seven that perhaps we have missed because of Darren Waters’ injury (knee ligament damage that will sideline the openside until the new year).
"Nic has a nose for the ball and gets over it at the contact area. His commitment is superb and he has that ability to slow down opposition ball while speeding up ours, allowing us to win rucks with fewer players.
"Similarly, Ieuan has really delivered in the LV= Cup and was pretty much mistake-free against Bath and Northampton.
"He was ferocious with his tackling, carried well and his technical work at the set piece was excellent.
"Ieaun brought energy but also, despite being a young man, made good decisions and over the next few months I don’t doubt that we will see him rise to the top.
"The pair of them really stepped up and are now really pushing for spots along with Jevon, Lewis and Tom Brown."
The Dragons will once again send fly-half Steffan Jones (Cross Keys) and wings Mike Poole (Newport) and Matthew Pewtner (Bedwas) out for Premiership action this weekend.
The trio all impressed last weekend, Jones kicking 17 points and Poole and Pewtner crossing for tries.
Dragons squad: T Prydie, T Chavhanga, W Harries, J Dixon, A Smith, A Tuilagi, P Leach, D Evans, L Robing, J Evans, W Evans, O Evans, P Price, N Williams, S Parry, S Jones, H Gustafson, T Ryan, D Way, N Buck, R Sidoli, A Jones, I Nimmo, L Evans, T Brown, I Jones, J Groves, N Cudd.