Dragons qualify after narrow defeat
Dragons produced a stunning second half comeback to secure a place in the knockout stages of the EPCR Challenge Cup after defeat to Emirates Lions at Ystrad Mynach.
After moving from Rodney Parade due to a frozen pitch, Dragons made the ideal start with young fly half Will Reed diving over early on for the lead.
The powerful visitors from Johannesburg who took control with quickfire tries – courtesy of Quan Horn and Edwill van der Merwe – and the boot of Jordan Hendrikse putting them 27-5 ahead.
But back roared the home side with Aki Seiuli and Jordan Williams cutting the lead before Rio Dyer grabbed a try bonus to set up a grandstand finale.
The Men of Gwent made three changes from the side that defeated Section Paloise last time out with Ross Moriarty making his 50th appearance while Lloyd Fairbrother and Ben Carter also returned.
Moriarty’s afternoon, though, was to last only five minutes after heavy contact in a midfield saw him replaced by Wainwright.
Hendrikse gave an early indication that his radar was spot on as he drilled over a penalty from out wide.
Dragons looked to strike back as Bradley Roberts almost snapped the defensive line with a bustling run.
Basham and Hewitt then blasted into contact to win a penalty that Reed nudged to the corner.
The forwards took ball on before Reed spotted a gap down the shortside and dived through bodies to score.
His conversion struck the left upright and bounced clear. A penalty for not releasing allowed the accurate Hendrikse to again split the posts and put Lions ahead before the South Africans struck two blows in quick succession.
Slick handling down the right wing opened the door for Horn to score down the right and then from the restart it was opposite wing van der Merwe who tore away.
The South Africans looked menacing with ball in hand while the scrum was also proving powerful as a penalty allowed Hendrikse to again show his prowess off the tee.
Dragons were badly falling foul of referee Adrien Marbot with another breakdown penalty allowing Hendrikse to kick deep.
A clever cross field kick from Reed looked to counter and find Dyer, but a horrid bounce denied the Wales international the chance to open the accelerator.
And poor discipline continued up undermine Dragons as two more penalty kicks from Hendrikse – one from halfway – ensured the Lions were in total charge by the interval.
Hendrikse kept the scoreboard ticking over after the break – with Dragons penalised at scrum time - with his sixth penalty of the afternoon.
The home side changed the entire front row to try and gain some momentum.
Jordan Williams sparked a counter-attack from deep with a weaving run and patience was finally rewarded as Seiuli powered over from close range.
The home side were started to dominate with the bench making a big impact as Leon Brown and Jack Dixon carried strongly.
A third home try saw a training ground move come off as Reed applied the final pass for Jordan Williams to go over.
Momentum was against the Lions with Emile van Heerden sinbinned and the home side grabbing a try bonus as Dyer stretched over under pressure to score.
The South Africans continued to spill penalties as Hanrahan kicked to the corner, but the Lions produced a good defensive maul to halt the home side.
Hanrahan made it a one score game before a huge finish saw Dragons bang on the door before a final penalty consigned the side to defeat.
03m Hendrikse p 0-3
14m Reed t 5-3
18m Hendrikse p 5-6
20m Horn t Hendrikse 5-13
22m Van der Merwe t 5-18
27m Hendrikse p 5-21
34m Hendrikse p 5-24
36m Hendrikse p 5-27
45m Hendrikse p 5-30
50m Seiuli t 10-30
60m J. Williams t Reed c 17-30
67m Dyer t 22-30
78m Hanrahan p 25-30
Dragons RFC: Jordan Williams, Rio Dyer, Steff Hughes, Max Clark (Dixon 50), Ashton Hewitt, Will Reed (Hanrahan 61), Lewis Jones (Williams 50); Rob Evans (Seiuli 46), Bradley Roberts (Coghlan 46), Lloyd Fairbrother (Brown 46), Joe Davies, Ben Carter, George Nott, Taine Basham, Ross Moriarty (Wainwright 6)
Replacements: Brodie Coghlan, Aki Seiuli, Leon Brown, Sean Lonsdale, Aaron Wainwright, Rhodri Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Jack Dixon
Emirates Lions: Andries Coetzee, Quan Horn, Henco van Wyk, Marius Louw, Edwill van der Merwe, Jordan Hendrikse, André Warner; JP Smith, Michael van Vuuren, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Willem Alberts, Darrian Landsberg, Jaco Kriel, Emile van Heerden, Emmanuel Tshituka
Replacements: PJ Botha, Morgan Naude, Ruan Smith, Pieter Jansen van Vuren, Ruhan Straeuli, JC Pretorius, Morné van den Berg, Rynhardt Jonker
Referee: Adrien Marbot (Fra)