12:33pm Friday 21st March 2014
By Chris Kirwan
HUGH Gustafson has been given the nod at hooker for Newport Gwent Dragons’ crunch clash with Connacht at Rodney Parade on Sunday afternoon (kick-off 3.05pm).
The 26-year-old has been selected to replace Rhys Thomas, who faces three weeks out after fracturing a bone in his hand in the loss to Ulster at the end of last month, with Wales Under-20s his back-up.
Gustafson, who has reverted back to his old position of loosehead prop four times this season, has not started a Pro12 encounter since the round four fixture against Munster in Cork last September and 10 of his 15 appearances have been from the bench.
The Dragons are boosted by the return from Six Nations duty of captain Andrew Coombs in the second row while Wales star Taulupe Faletau, who played every minute of the tournament, is among the replacements.
Director of rugby Lyn Jones plumps for a new-look, all-international back three with recalls given to Dan Evans (suspension), Tom Prydie (ankle) and Will Harries (concussion).
After working his way back to full fitness for Wales Under-20s against England and Scotland, Jack Dixon makes his first regional start since suffering a foot injury against Zebre in October. Ross Wardle is selected as his midfield partner.
Number eight Netani Talei is back after missing the Ulster thrashing because of a rib injury, enabling Lewis Evans to revert back to blindside flanker.
Connacht coach Pat Lam names the same side that beat Treviso last time out with former Scotland and Cardiff Blues fly-half Dan Parks the only member of the squad that is not qualified for Ireland.
The men from Galway are attempting to win four games on the spin for the first time since 2002/3 and would leapfrog the Dragons with victory.
Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie, R Wardle, J Dixon, W Harries, J Tovey, R Rees, O Evans, H Gustafson, B Douglas, A Coombs (captain), R Sidoli, L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei. Replacements: E Dee, P Price, D Bell, M Screech, T Faletau, W Evans, A Smith, M Pewtner.
Connacht: R Henshaw, T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr, D Parks, K Marmion, D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You, A Muldowney, M Kearney, J Muldoon (captain), E Masterson, E McKeon. Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, N White, M Swift, A Browne, F Murphy, M Nikora, D Leader.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
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