Dragons to go on road in Challenge Cup last 16 after comeback falls agonisingly short
THE Dragons failed to earn a Rodney Parade tie in the last 16 of the European Challenge Cup after a remarkable comeback against the Lions fell agonisingly short in Ystrad Mynach.
Dai Flanagan’s men qualified for the knockout stages with a pair of bonus points in a 30-25 defeat but will now go on their travels to Glasgow rather than hosting Racing 92.
The game was switched to their training base because of a frozen pitch at Rodney Parade and it was the South Africans that made themselves at home.
They led 30-5 early in the second half thanks to tries by wingers Quan Horn and Edwill van der Merwe plus the booming right boot of Jordan Hendrikse.
The Dragons had a big impact off the bench and came storming back with tries by loosehead prop Aki Seiuli, full-back Jordan Williams and wing Rio Dyer added to fly-half Will Reed’s first-half effort for a bonus point.
They added to that late on through JJ Hanrahan but an attack in the 22 with the clock in the red failed to finish the comeback.
It meant it was a defeat for the Newport-based side against a South African team in European competition in a game played in Caerphilly borough.
Ultimately the Dragons paid the price for a lack of discipline and accuracy, making it another game for the ‘if only’ list.
Now they will be underdogs in Glasgow on the first weekend of April rather than treating their supporters to a humdinger against Racing 92’s superstars in Newport.
Jordan Hendrikse booted the Lions into a 3-0 lead in the third minute and that was swiftly followed by Ross Moriarty, who was keen to prove a point after being snubbed for the Six Nations squad, being forced off after a nasty blow to his head.
The Dragons opted to go for the corner rather than respond from the tee and the decision paid off when Reed darted over down the left in the 10th minute to make it 5-3 after his pack had hammered away at the line.
The fly-half hit the left post with the conversion and Hendrikse then regained the lead with a second terrific strike from the 10-metre line.
The Dragons went from leading to being 18-5 down after quickfire tries by wingers Quan Horn and Edwill van der Merwe.
First Horn was put over after a lovely offload by centre Marius Louw and then van der Merwe followed over from the restart after a burst by prop JP Smith and awful defence.
The Dragons continued to get on the wrong side of French referee Adrien Marbot and Hendrikse earned a very healthy 21-5 lead for the visitors.
The hosts needed a response and nearly got one after half an hour when Reed spotted space for Rio Dyer down the right but the bounce from the cross-kick was cruel when the Wales speedster would have had a one on one with the last man had it sat up.
Instead, the Lions were able to kick themselves into complete dominance at 27-5 with the Dragons’ half summed up by Reed missing touch with a penalty with the clock in the red.
The Dragons needed a rapid response in the second half but instead the pattern continued with a scrum penalty allowing Hendrikse to make it 30-5 with 44 minutes on the clock.
Flanagan changed his front row – including a first appearance since April for Wales tighthead Leon Brown – and got an immediate reaction.
A penalty was kicked to the corner and hooker Brodie Coghlan went close before loosehead Aki Seiuli went over to make it 30-10.
Reed went close to giving Dyer a run-in for the second time only for his chip to just elude the Wales winger but the third try did come with 20 minutes to go when Jordan Williams cantered over after a slick move from a solid scrum in the 22.
Reed converted to make it 30-17 before being replaced by JJ Hanrahan, who promptly kicked penalties to the corner as the Dragons scented a remarkable comeback.
They had their bonus with 13 minutes to go when they hammered away at the line before the ball was spread right for Dyer to jink and then reach over.
Hanrahan’s conversion from the right drifted just wide and it remained a two-score game at 30-22 until the Irishman banged over a penalty with three minutes to go.
The Lions ran down the clock but were penalised with just seconds remaining, giving the Dragons a shot at victory with a five-metre lineout.
Alas, they could quite complete a remarkable comeback.
Dragons: J Williams, Dyer, S Hughes (captain), Clark (Dixon 49), Hewitt, Reed (Hanrahan 60), L Jones (R Williams 49); R Evans (Seiuli 46), B Roberts (Coghlan 46), Fairbrother (Brown 46), J Davies, Carter, Nott, Basham, Moriarty (Wainwright 4).
Scorers: tries – Reed, Seiuli, J Williams, Dyer; conversions – Reed, Hanrahan; penalties – Hanrahan Lions scorers: tries – Horn, van der Merwe; conversions – Hendrikse; penalties – Hendrikse (6) Referee: Adrien Marbot (France).