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RaboDirect PRO12 preview: Dragons host Connacht
- Leinster grab late bonus
- Natoga hat-trick sinks Blues
- Ulster battle past Edinburgh
- Glasgow see off Scarlets
- Munster too strong for Treviso
- Connacht cruise past Dragons
Welsh lock Andrew Coombs returns to the Dragons starting XV for Sunday's PRO12 clash with Connacht at Rodney Parade.
Skipper Coombs has made one appearance for the men of Gwent during his international duties and helped them gain a crucial victory against Glasgow Warriors.
He features in a starting line-up showing ten changes and one positional switch to the side that faced Ulster at the end of February.
Full-back Daniel Evans returns to the fold after being banned for five weeks for a dangerous tackle whilst playing against Newcastle Falcons.
"It's a big relief being able to play this weekend; no one likes to be out with a ban. I've had a good five weeks of hard training so I just can't wait to get back onto the field now and play," said Evans.
"I feel refreshed after this time out and hopefully I can bring some energy to the game."
Evans is joined in the back three by Tom Prydie, who is returning from an ankle injury, and Will Harries. The centre pairing takes on the form of young gun Ross Wardle and Under 20s star Jack Dixon.
Jason Tovey returns from injury to take up the place of fly-half and international scrum-half Richie Rees retains his place at number nine.
The front row has one change to it as Hugh Gustafson steps into the position of hooker. He is joined by props Owen Evans and Bruce Douglas.
Lewis Evans is moved from number eight to blindside flanker and is joined in the back row by Nic Cudd and Netani Talei. There have been seven changes made to the replacements bench.
Connacht go into the game having won their last three PRO12 fixtures but have not won four in a row in the competition since the 2002/03 season.
Head coach Pat Lam has made no changes to his side for the first time this season. Flanker John Muldoon will captain the side while Robbie Henshaw is fresh from Ireland's success to start at full-back.
The league's highest point scorer Dan Parks starts at fly-half in an otherwise all-Irish qualified squad this weekend.
On the bench, prop Ronan Loughney returns from injury while Darragh Leader is brought in among the replacement backs.
"It's been a while since our last outing but we're in good shape after training hard during the break," said Lam.
"Coming off the back of three straight wins gives us confidence but we're very much aware that we haven't won four in a row in quite some time. We also have to look at the threat of the Dragons who are a strong outfit at Rodney Parade. They've only been narrowly beaten by Leinster and Munster at home. If you look at all the games they play there, their line speed is faster, their contact is faster."
Dragons: 15 D Evans, 14 Prydie, 13 Wardle, 12 Dixon, 11 Harries, 10 Tovey, 9 Rees, 1 O Evans, 2 Gustafson, 3 Douglas, 4 Coombs (c), 5 Sidoli, 6 L Evans, 7 Cudd, 8 Talei.
Replacements: 16 Dee, 17 Price, 18 Bell, 19 Screech, 20 Faletau, 21 W Evans, 22 Smith, 23 Pewtner.
Connacht:15 Henshaw, 14 O'Halloran, 13 Griffin, 12 McSharry, 11 Carr, 10 Parks, 9 Marmion, 1 Buckley, 2 Harris-Wright, 3 Ah You, 4 Muldowney, 5 Kearney, 6 Muldoon (c), 7 Masterson, 8 McKeon.
Replacements: 16 Heffernan, 17 Loughney, 18 White, 19 Swift, 20 Browne, 21 Murphy, 22 Nikora, 23 Leader.
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Guinness PRO12 Table
|Thursday 1st January|
|14:05||Dragons vs Cardiff Blues|
|17:00||Connacht vs Munster|
|Friday 2nd January|
|19:35||Edinburgh vs Glasgow Warriors|
|Saturday 3rd January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Zebre|
|14:40||Leinster vs Ulster|
|17:05||Scarlets vs Ospreys|
|Friday 9th January|
|19:35||Connacht vs Edinburgh|
|19:35||Glasgow vs Scarlets|
|Saturday 10th January|
|14:40||Cardiff Blues vs Leinster|
|15:00||Zebre vs Munster|
|Sunday 11th January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Ulster|
|16:00||Ospreys vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Wednesday 14th January|
|TBC||Leinster vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|TBC||Munster vs Cardiff Blues|
|TBC||Scarlets vs Connacht|
|TBC||Zebre vs Glasgow|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ospreys|
|TBC||Ulster vs Benetton Treviso|
|Saturday 21st February|
|TBC||Benetton Treviso vs Cardiff Blues|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ulster|
|TBC||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Connacht|
|TBC||Leinster vs Zebre|
|14:40||Scarlets vs Munster|
|17:15||Glasgow vs Ospreys|
|Saturday 28th February|
|TBC||Cardiff Blues vs Edinburgh|
|Sunday 28th December|
|Zebre 16 - 26 Treviso|
|Saturday 27th December|
|Ospreys 17 - 15 Scarlets|
|Glasgow Warriors 16 - 6 Edinburgh|
|Friday 26th December|
|Ulster 13 - 10 Connacht|
|Munster 28 - 13 Leinster|
|Cardiff Blues 17 - 23 Dragons|
|Sunday 21st December|
|Dragons 25 - 11 Zebre|
|Saturday 20th December|
|Ospreys 31 - 20 Ulster|
|Glasgow Warriors 21 - 18 Munster|
|Friday 19th December|
|Cardiff Blues 21 - 9 Scarlets|
|Edinburgh 48 - 0 Treviso|
|Leinster 21 - 11 Connacht|
|Sunday 30th November|
|Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons|
|Saturday 29th November|
|Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets|
|Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys|
|Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh|
|Friday 28th November|
|Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso|
|Munster 21 - 20 Ulster|
|Sunday 23rd November|
|Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff Blues|
|Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster|
|Friday 21st November|
|Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys|
|Connacht 43 - 3 Zebre|
|Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors|
|Dragons 12 - 38 Munster|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com