THE Dragons were down to the bare bones when they last played in Europe but boss Dean Ryan is faced by a raft of welcome selection headaches for Saturday’s Challenge Cup clash with Northampton.

The Dragons welcome the Saints to Rodney Parade in the last 16 of the tournament on the back of four fine performances to finish the Guinness PRO14.

Ryan’s men beat the Ospreys, Glasgow and Edinburgh while they gave Ulster a scare; they have played with physicality and enterprise to provide hope of causing an upset against English opposition this weekend.

The Dragons’ Champions Cup campaign was ruined in December by a coronavirus outbreak that led to late changes to the matchday squad to face Wasps and then an inexperienced team being beaten at Bordeaux-Begles.

However, director of rugby Ryan will leave a number of individuals unhappy when he pins his teamsheet to the board in Ystrad Mynach this week.

Here are some of the key selection issues…

South Wales Argus: FINE FORM: Lloyd FairbrotherFINE FORM: Lloyd Fairbrother


Leon Brown is fresh from a Six Nations title triumph with Wales, coming off the bench in all five fixtures.

The 24-year-old from Newport is one of Europe’s brightest front row prospects thanks to his athleticism and improved scrummaging… yet he isn’t a shoo-in for the Saints clash.

Lloyd Fairbrother has been in superb form while Brown has been on international duty and has led the charge in the strong Principality Stadium showings in the PRO14 run-in.

The Cornishman, who helped Wales in training in the 2020 Six Nations, is not content with playing the role of deputy to a Test prop.

Whoever is disappointed when Ryan names his team will still have a big role to play in the last half hour or so.

South Wales Argus: LIVELY: Gonzalo BertranouLIVELY: Gonzalo Bertranou


Who starts and who finishes between Argentina international Gonzalo Bertranou and club captain Rhodri Williams?

Bertranou has been impressive since arriving in February and helped to play at high tempo in the first half against Edinburgh while Williams has the experience of European rugby and English opposition.

There is a strong argument for being brave and sticking with the Puma, with the comfort of Williams off the bench.

South Wales Argus: IMPRESSIVE: Aneurin OwenIMPRESSIVE: Aneurin Owen


If Jamie Roberts is fit then he starts, with Jack Dixon the like-for-like replacement if a dead leg prevents him from featuring.

The other slot in midfield is a tough choice, one that would have been a simple one back in August when Nick Tompkins arrived on loan from Saracens, an international who has played in the biggest European clashes.

However, form would reward up-and-coming Aneurin Owen, a talent who many expect to be capped soon.

The 20-year-old from Newport has started six games on the spin and been key in the attacking shape – it wouldn’t be a gamble to start him.


Ryan’s selection headache would be a splitting one if Ollie Griffiths was fit but sadly he is out for a few more weeks with an arm injury, joining Taine Basham on the sidelines.

That means it is likely to be four from five in the matchday squad with one of Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty, Harrison Keddie, Ben Fry and Dan Baker the options.

Wainwright, Moriarty and Keddie started against Edinburgh on Sunday and you’d expect them to get the nod to join forces from the off again.

Then it’s a shoot-out between the abrasive Fry and the strong-running Baker, with the former in pole position after a breakthrough campaign.

South Wales Argus: DEPENDABLE: Dragons stalwart Matthew ScreechDEPENDABLE: Dragons stalwart Matthew Screech


Wales international Will Rowlands is arriving from Wasps to add some heft next season but the current contingent have been in fine form.

Unless Ryan goes for six forwards on the bench as he did against Ulster, one of Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Joe Makysmiw and Ben Carter will miss out.

Davies might not be flashy but looks to be a shoo-in given his maul defence and grunt while Screech was a leading performer in the first half against Edinburgh.

Carter has been remarkable in his first season of senior rugby and deserves to be on the bench, something that will benefit him in the long-term but also boost the Dragons in the final quarter.

My Dragons XV to face Northampton: Jordan Williams; Jonah Holmes, Aneurin Owen, Jamie Roberts (Nick Tompkins if not fit), Ashton Hewitt; Sam Davies, Gonzalo Bertranou; Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Aaron Wainwright, Harrison Keddie, Ross Moriarty.