The Dragons earned a brave bonus point as they pushed Castres Olympique hard at Stade Pierre-Antoine

The Welsh region were heavy underdogs against the French heavyweights, but a stunning three-try second half set up a mouth-watering return match at Rodney Parade in January.

Wales scrum-half Gareth Cooper is getting back to his best form and backrower Michael Owen reminded national coach Mike Ruddock of his quality ahead of Tuesday’s Wales squad announcement for next month’s four internationals.

The Dragons began well last night, throwing the ball wide to their pacy outside backs at every opportunity, they had no answer to a Castres pack that looks like they could easily run through a brick wall – and enjoy it.

All Black props Kees Meeuws and Carl Hoeft led the way, and both were part of the pack who enveloped hooker David Roumieu and drove him over the line for the game’s first try.

Established goal-kicker Laurent Marticorena converted for a 7-0 lead which was reduced minutes later by Craig Warlow’s penalty goal as the Dragons persisted with their attacking spirit. Cooper and prop Rhys Thomas both went close to five-pointers after Owen’s involvement in both moves, but it was the home side who crossed again before half an hour.

Castres got the ball away from their forwards as quickly as possible and caught the Dragons off guard with a swiftly taken scrum. No 8 Guilaume Taussac broke until he was snared by Owen only to send Samoan wing Laloaoa Milford cantering over in the corner. Marticorena again converted for the 14-3 halftime lead.

The Dragons showed admirable grit to come back through tries to Cooper and winger Gareth Wyatt (two), and an upset looked on the cards in the final quarter, but Castres kept their heads.

Marticorena scored the crucial try for the home side, but Dragons coach Paul Turner will be a happy man. Every man and his dog had written off the Welsh region ahead of the game, and the bonus point for finishing within seven points may prove valuable in the coming weeks.