THE Dragons have picked six forwards on their bench to try and combat the Bulls' bruisers but they need to play smart in the United Rugby Championship clash, says boss Dai Flanagan.

The Rodney Parade club have won three of their last four in Newport but they are underdogs against the title hopefuls tonight (kick-off 7.35pm).

The Bulls started round 12 in second place in the table, four points behind leaders Leinster, and they also earned a home tie in the last 16 of the Champions Cup.

The Dragons have not beaten a South African side since edging out the Cheetahs in February 2020 and they have struggled against the power of the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions.

Flanagan knows that his side need to embrace the physical confrontations – but they need to control where they take place.

South Wales Argus: PHYSICAL: Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee hits hard against Bristol in the Champions CupPHYSICAL: Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee hits hard against Bristol in the Champions Cup (Image: PA)

“We face a Bulls side who are an unbelievable rugby team and are one of the favourites for the league,” said the head coach.

“All 15 of their guys on the field know what they need to do. They've got size, speed, skill set - they're formidable.

“Our challenge is to match them in all aspects and capitalise on opportunities, which we haven't always done this season. We need to put a bit of pressure on by how we play the game tactically.”

The Dragons have held some power back with Wales forwards Elliot Dee and Aaron Wainwright on the bench on their return from Six Nations duty.

Lock Ben Carter, who has been sorely missed after suffering a hamstring injury in mid-November, will also add oomph when making his comeback as a replacement.

The Dragons have opted for six forwards and two backs on the bench to try and maintain their physicality against the Bulls.

“If we try to go pound for pound with them, they will win,” said Flanagan. “If we are clever of where we go pound for pound, then when we have a chance.

“We can't turn up and just be loose and say ‘right you have a go’ because physically, like have you seen with Wales and the Welsh clubs, we have some work to do.

“The quicker we can close that gap the better and there is an intention from everyone across the board, from our senior team to pathway teams to Premiership teams, to improve that.

“We’re probably never going to have the same potential in our group and South African teams and even Irish teams, in terms of size.

“What we must be is smart, whether that's moving the ball, playing a little bit more condensed with move shorter passes or widening the pitch, kicking less, or kicking more. That's our job as coaches, to find solutions.”

The Bulls field a pair of Springbok props in Gerhard Steenekamp and Wilco Louw and four World Cup winners are in the XV - flanker Marco Van Staden, centre Canan Moodie, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse and full-back Willie le Roux.

Lock Deon Slabber, who signed for the Dragons last summer but the move collapsed due to personal reasons, is not in the visitors' 23 after joining on loan from the Pumas.