9:02am Thursday 5th September 2013
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons don't intend to put down the welcome mat for Ulster when the RaboDirect Pro12 gets under way tomorrow.
Hooker Rhys Thomas says the region want to turn Rodney Parade into a "dungeon" for their opponents over the coming campaign.
Ulster ran out 46-19 winners in the corresponding fixture last season; an all-too-frequent occurrence for the liking of the Dragons faithful.
The region won five and lost five of their league games in Newport last season with Ulster, Leinster and Glasgow also leaving with four-try bonus points.
Thomas, who signed from London Wasps this summer, says that their visitors can't have things so easy in 2013/14.
"We want to make Rodney Parade a bit of a dungeon for people to come," said the 30-year-old former Wales hooker.
"If they are going to get anything out of games here then they have to earn it, we can't roll over for anyone.
"Ulster are one of the best teams in Europe and we need to show heart and character against them, just like we did in the friendly against Bath (a 22-20 win).
"The result was a bit unfair to them but the score was there in the paper the next day. We showed spirit to get the win against Bath and the next week they beat the Ospreys.
"You can't read too much into friendlies but that win has given us confidence ahead of Ulster.
"We are ready for the challenge and I don't see any reason why we can't start the season with a great win.
"There a real confidence that we are going to do well this year and that's not just bravado. Now we've got to string some results together and produce the goods on the pitch."
Thomas will be in the thick of the action against a notoriously formidable Ulster pack.
The visitors will be strong up front even without influential New Zealand tighthead John Afoa, Lions hooker Rory Best, Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris and Kiwi number eight Nick Williams.
The Dragons struggled against Bath's scrum and driving lineout – as did the Ospreys a week later – but Thomas believes strides have been made after a fortnight on the training paddock.
He said: "Ulster's pack is pretty impressive and they are a good unit, but we've not given too much away.
"Lyn (Jones, Dragons director of rugby) wanted to work on structural stuff against Bath and knew that the set piece wouldn't quite be where we wanted it.
"There were a lot of issues but we have worked tirelessly to put things right and are looking in a lot better shape for Ulster. Hopefully what we've been doing in training will show on the pitch."
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