Ulster aim to repeat Welsh 'grand slam'
6:01am Thursday 5th September 2013 in Latest Rugby
ULSTER were perfect in Wales last season but boss Mark Anscombe is expecting a "battle royal" at Rodney Parade tomorrow evening, writes Chris Kirwan.
The Irish province won on their travels to Newport Gwent Dragons (46-19), Scarlets (19-12), Cardiff Blues (48-19) and Ospreys (16-13) in 2012/13.
But last year's runners-up head to Newport without Lions Rory Best and Tommy Bowe, South Africa star Ruan Pienaar, New Zealanders John Afoa and Nick Williams, Ireland internationals Stuart Olding and Iain Henderson and the injured Craig Gilroy, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris.
Anscombe also recognises that Ulster will be up against rejuvenated hosts after summer of change at Rodney Parade.
"The Dragons have strengthened their squad and strengthened their coaching department and it is going to be a good old battle royal over there in Newport," said the Kiwi.
"Our away form was good last year and the challenge this year is to match that, each year teams with get better and stronger from their recruitment so last year counts for nothing. It's a fresh season and we just have to concentrate on preparing for the Dragons."
Leading the charge for the visitors, who are second favourites with the bookies for the title, will be South African lock Johann Mulller.
He believes Ulster need to be out of the blocks sharply if they are to avoid coming a cropper against the new-look Dragons.
"We've a tough start," he said. "They've got a new set-up there, a new coaching staff in place, a new stadium and I think it's exciting times for them as well.
"It's a tough place to go and play rugby at. I think you can ask every side in this league, it's one place that you really have to play well to start well.
"It's going to be tough, but we're excited about the prospect."
Ulster were downed 30-10 by Leicester in their final pre-season friendly last weekend but Muller believes they head to Wales in good shape.
The Springbok said: "There's a great buzz within the squad and I think everybody's really looking forward to the season starting now and basically playing rugby and getting to do what we love."
Ulster have won their last three games against the Dragons, bagging a bonus point on each occasion.
They last time the Irish province came unstuck against the region was at Rodney Parade in September 2011 when beaten 22-9, Jason Tovey kicking 17 points and centre Tom Riley crossing for the only try of the game.
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