NEWPORT Gwent Dragons will be without Wales star Toby Faletau as they attempt to topple Europe’s only unbeaten team at Rodney Parade on Friday night.
Caretaker coach Rob Howley will name the 21-year-old in his Wales squad for the autumn internationals this morning.
The number eight will travel with the rest of his international team-mates for a training camp in Spala, Poland, on Saturday, so will not be with his region for the daunting clash with Ulster.
The Irish province have won all five of their RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures so far and are two-from-two in the Heineken Cup.
The task of becoming the first team to send Ulster packing isn’t helped by the Dragons back-row problems, with Faletau absent and Dan Lydiate, Hywel Stoddart, Andrew Coombs and Darren Waters on the treatment table.
“We always knew that we would lose Toby, and Dan before his injury, but we haven’t been helped by a number of injuries to players that were going to help cover,” said head coach Darren Edwards.
“Toby is a hugely influential player for us but this is not something that has caught us by surprise and it’s up to the next man to step up to the plate.”
That individual is likely to be Tom Brown, who has been playing out of position at blindside flanker recently, with Jevon Groves replacing Faletau and Ieuan Jones and Nic Cudd vying for spots on the bench. The absence of Faletau is a blow but the Dragons head into the clash encouraged by a much-improved display against Bayonne in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
The French outfit sneaked a 22-19 win after repelling a stirring 21-phase Dragons attack after the 80 minutes had elapsed.
“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get the win because we went toe to toe with a very good side,” said Edwards.
“I thought it was a great performance by our forwards, who had a real mental toughness and stood up to a big Bayonne pack.
“It shows that the performances are in us, we’ve got all the weapons and the frustrating thing is that the Pro12 table would look a lot better if we had played like that in a number of league fixtures.
“That needs to be our benchmark and that is the standard that we drive for on the training- ground – and I can assure you we are working really, really hard for that.
“It was a much better performance but if we think Bayonne are a big European team then they are nothing on Ulster.
“They are the form team at the moment. It’s an even bigger challenge and we need an even bigger performance.”