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PREVIEW: Third time lucky for Dragons?

Tuesday 19th April 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Newport Gwent Dragons know a home win over Worcester Warriors is vital if they are to have any hopes of reaching the latter stages of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. - 13/12/2016 11:34

Newport Gwent Dragons know a home win over Worcester Warriors is vital if they are to have any hopes of reaching the latter stages of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. - 13/12/2016 11:34

Newport Gwent Dragons will be hoping it’s third time lucky at the semi-final stage of the European Rugby Challenge Cup.

The Welsh region made the final four of the competition in 2007 and 2015 but comprehensive defeats to ASM Clermont Auvergne (46-29) and Edinburgh (45-16) saw their Challenge Cup hopes end with a whimper.

Their shock 23-21 win at Gloucester in the quarter-final of this year’s competition has raised hopes in South East Wales about the possibility of going all the way to the final at the Grand Stande de Lyon in May.

But their build-up to Saturday’s semi-final in Montpellier has been far from perfect, with speculation surrounding the future of head coach Lyn Jones and a Welsh derby defeat to the Cardiff Blues on Sunday.

Dragons coach Kingsley Jones was critical of his side for playing as individuals rather than as a team against the Blues, as many of his young stars eye places on Wales’ summer tour to New Zealand.

Jones said: “We’ve got a lot of young guys and quite rightly so they want to impress and they want to play for Wales. But the only way this team is going to get lots of players in the Welsh squad is by playing well as a team.

“The team needs to be getting the right results and if we get a number of wins on the trot then everyone will be rewarded and recognised.

“Against the Blues there was a little bit of that (selfishness) coming back in, we didn’t do it against Gloucester and we need to make sure that we don’t do it against Montpellier or we’ll be on the wrong side of the score-line.”

Montpellier are juggling their Challenge Cup campaign with their Top 14 ambitions, where they currently sit in second place seven points behind leaders Clermont.

This is the first time they have reached the semi-final stage having twice been knocked out in the quarter-final. The French giants have looked in ominous form with more first-half tries in this year’s competition than any other side.

Previous Challenge Cup records are also in Montpellier’s favour because of the of the 44 Challenge Cup semi-finals played to date – the matches were over two legs between 2003 and '05 – there have been only nine away wins including Harlequins' victory over Munster at Thomond Park in 2011.

Match Facts

  • Saturday's semi-final will be the first meeting between the sides in European competition, however Montpellier did face Newport RFC in the Challenge Cup back in 1997/98, losing home and away. 
  • Montpellier will be appearing in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup for the first time; they lost both of their previous quarter-final matches before defeating Sale Sharks in the last eight this season. 
  • The Dragons will be making their third appearance at this stage of the competition; they have never reached the final, conceding 45+ points in both of their previous semi-finals. 
  • The Dragons have won five of their last six games against TOP 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup, including the last three in a row. 
  • This will be the fifth time Montpellier have faced Welsh opposition in the Challenge Cup, winning in Round 4 against Cardiff Blues but losing the three before that. 
  • Montpellier have scored 16 first-half tries this season, more than any other side in the competition. 
  • The Dragons have won eight turnovers per game on average this season, more than any other team in the competition.
  • No player has made more successful lineout throws this season than Elliot Dee who has found the target with 55/60 (92%). 
  • Akapusi Qera made 12 carries in the quarter-final to take his tally to 77 this season, the most of any player in the tournament.

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REPORT: Montpellier set up final clash with Quins

Saturday 23rd April 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Sans trop forcer son talent

Sans trop forcer son talent

Montpellier’s South African contingent earned them a ticket to the Challenge Cup final as outside half Demetri Catrakilis kicked 17 points and Bismarck du Plessis powered over for a try.

But the Dragons, in their second successive semi-final, earned huge praise for their brave defensive display and actually outscored their hosts by two tries to one with a strong fightback in the final quarter after falling 22 points behind after an hour of play.

The Top 14 club will now go on to face Harlequins in the Challenge Cup final at Grand Stade de Lyon on Friday, 13 May. It will be their first final, while the Quins will be seeking to win their fourth title.

The Dragons went to Kingsholm and beat the reigning champions, Gloucester, in the quarter-finals, but this was a bridge to far for them against a side sitting second in the French league and boasting 11 wins in their last 12 matches.

Montpellier, coached by the South African World Cup winner Jake White, dominated the opening exchanges and enjoyed most of the territory and possession in a first-half spent softening up the brave Dragons defence. Even so, the visitors had the first chance to open the scoring, but Dorian Jones missed with a sixth minute penalty.

His opposite number, however, was in no mood to miss. Catrakilis hit the mark with four successive penalties in the first-half to give his side a 12-0 interval lead. The Dragons had the chance to shoot for goal with the last kick of the half, but Carl Meyer was wide this time.

Dragons coach Kingsley Jones admitted at half-time his side needed to sort out their scrum, which was wilting under the pressure of two Springbok World Cup winners in the Montpellier front row and a 42 stone second row pairing, but they continued to suffer at the set-piece in the second half.

A neat grubber kick to the home line by Meyer almost earned the Dragons a try in the opening few minutes of the second period, but that man Catrakilis added more points from his boot to stretch the lead to 15 points.  

Then came the try that gave the Frenchmen an unassailable lead. Australian scrum half Nic White, on as a replacement, spotted some space in the Dragons 22 after a turn-over on half way and his pin-point kick earned his side a five metre line-out. Bismarck du Plessis found fellow Springbok Pierre Spies at the tail of the line and then joined the juggernaut to claim the try.

The Catrakilis conversion was a formality and that was the end of the home’ side’s scoring. The Dragons, though, weren’t only just getting started. Meyer set up a try for Hallam Amos and then the full back crossed for a scored to ensure his side could leave the Altrad Stadium with their heads held high.

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