EVENTS the last time an Irish province headed to Rodney Parade without their stellar names led to Bernard Jackman being booked for media duties this Saturday rather than plotting Munster’s downfall.

So shambolic was the performance in defeat to Leinster’s second string at the start of December, with nine tries conceded in a 59-10 loss despite the presence of the Wales contingent after autumn duty, that the wheels were set in motion for a change at the helm.

Head coach Jackman was in charge for one more fixture – a European Challenge Cup hammering at Northampton – but the meeting with the champions would be the last time he would pit his wits against his countrymen while calling the shots at Rodney Parade.

The former Ireland hooker will be watching on this weekend while working as a pundit and the PRO14 could desperately do with him describing the Dragons causing an upset.

Yes, an upset despite Munster having 11 Irish players in Portugal preparing to defend their Six Nations crown.

The Dragons may have home advantage this weekend, but their paper-thin squad means that they are hit harder by the loss of their six-strong Wales contingent.

Munster will ring the changes after their bruising and enthralling Champions Cup win against Exeter but boss Johann van Graan will still head to Wales expecting five points to strengthen their grip on top spot in Conference A, a feat that would earn a Thomond Park semi-final and dramatically increase their chances of making it to Celtic Park on May 25.

On Tuesday the Irish province linked to a gallery of pictures from training on their website.

They might not have the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls and Tadhg Beirne with them in Limerick but there were some impressive figures.

There was powerful South African flanker Chris Cloete joking around with Kiwi hooker Rhys Marshall, former All Blacks scrum-half Alby Mathewson whipped the ball away, fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal was pulling the strings and putting ex-Springbok Jaco Taute on the run, Ireland centre Rory Scannell was wrapped up warm and full-back Mike Hayley, formerly part of Eddie Jones' plans but now chasing Irish honours, was a picture of concentration.

A glance at the latest Opta stats for the 13 rounds of PRO14 action emphasises more depth with South African machine Arno Botha on the leaderboard for tackles, carries and defenders beaten while his compatriot Jean Kleyn is up there for tackles.

South Wales Argus:

With the two top Irish teams it is often the names that you don’t recognise so swiftly that you have to be careful of.

Leinster and Munster were the strongest teams in the Celtic Cup and it was the former that inflicted the latter’s sole defeat in a winner-takes-all tussle for the Irish spot in the final.

The Dragons’ A team headed to Cork in September and that they were pretty chuffed with their effort in a 34-17 defeat shows the respective levels of expectation.

In time plenty of those young Munstermen from the Musgrave Park encounter will feature prominently on famous European nights and press their case for Test honours.

So, regardless of absentees Munster will be tipped to triumph on Saturday afternoon but this is a chance for the Rodney Parade region to prove their value to the competition by repeating their December, 2015 victory against Anthony Foley’s men in red.

At the start of January the Dragons were on the receiving end of some harsh but fair words from former Ireland lock Donal Lenihan, who isn’t one of those pundits that deals purely in trash-talk.

"The likes of the Cheetahs, Zebre, Dragons and Southern Kings have little or nothing to offer,” he said to RTE.

"I have been very disappointed with the South African sides. I gave them the benefit of the doubt when they came into the tournament as they were coming out of a Super Rugby season.

"You look at the Cheetahs, you would have thought they'd have offered more than the Kings after making the play-offs last year. This season, for whatever reason they have fallen away.

"Overall, the PRO14 has too many dead rubbers, too many teams putting out under-strength sides for games away from home. That's something we've been criticising the French Top 14 sides for years.”

It is hard to argue with Lenihan and one fears the situation will get worse with the Dragons braced to cut costs, a plight that will prompt a chasm to those chasing silverware at the top of the conferences.

READ MORE: Tough calls loom for Jones as Dragons try to cut costs

Ceri Jones’ men are sixth in Conference B and trail fifth-placed Ulster by 15 points, so their prime aim is ensuring they aren’t overhauled by the Kings and keeping their tally above Conference A basement dwellers Zebre.

But the Dragons have a chance to earn respect in the remainder of the season by throwing some spanners in the works for play-off hopefuls.

Munster (top of Conference A) visit on Saturday then after a break the Dragons travel to Edinburgh (second, B) and Benetton (third, B).

In March it is Ulster (fifth, B) in Newport and the Ospreys (third, A) in Swansea then on last day it is the Scarlets (fourth, B) at Principality Stadium.

The Dragons gave everyone a lift when they ended their four-year derby drought by beating the Ospreys in December. Now they need to play their part in a fascinating race for the PRO14 play-offs.