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After an eight-month absence, European action returns in the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Friday night when Pool 4 winners Bristol Bears host Pool 1 runners-up Dragons at Ashton Gate, live on BT Sport and beIN SPORTS from 19:45 (UK and Irish time).
Bristol enjoyed a near-perfect pool stage campaign, registering five wins and a draw in their six matches including double victories over Brive and Stade Francais Paris, securing the No.2 seed in the process. Dragons were behind Castres Olympique in Pool 1 although did manage to defeat the French side in Round 1.
Bristol Bears: 1st, Pool 4, 26 points.
Dragons, 2nd, Pool 1, 20 points.
Bristol Bears wins: 1
Dragons Wins: 1
2019/20 point scorers
Bristol Bears: Callum Sheedy (40), Ioan Lloyd (26), Will Capon (20)
Dragons: Sam Davies (60), Arwel Robson (19), Adam Warren, Jared Rosser, Taine Basham (15)
- Pat Lam (Bristol): “To come into a knockout rugby game, with the opportunity that, at the end of that final whistle, you can go into a home semi-final, it’s huge for the club, but also the players. I think the players recognise the work that we did to put ourselves in this situation – they certainly don’t want to waste that opportunity and want to be at their best. So, coming in Monday after the game against Wasps, the boys that didn’t play brought a lot of energy and it was a great session. This whole week there has been a spring in the step.”
- Dean Ryan (Dragons): “We might be gambling on some, given the lack of rugby, but we have got some players that we think can do some different things. I don’t want to be wondering on Saturday morning about what I might have done. I’d rather go into a knockout game and give it a good go. The decision we have to make is about the amount of rugby they have played versus what we think their experiences might add.”
🚨 EPCR is pleased to announce the dates, kick-off times and TV coverage for the #ChallengeCupRugby semi-final matches 🚨
This weekend the quarter-finalists will be fighting it out to book their spot in the final 4 🏉
More info below 👇https://t.co/ntJ3eaVC76
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) September 16, 2020
- Pat Lam makes 14 changes from the Bristol side that faced Wasps last weekend. Bears include nine internationals in the starting line-up as Steven Luatua skippers the side from the back row while Harry Randall returns from a laceration injury to be included among the 23-man squad on the replacements bench.
- Jamie Roberts and Jonah Holmes will make their debuts for Dragons on Friday with the vastly experienced centre linking up with Nick Tompkins in midfield while Holmes adds his firepower out wide. Dean Ryan has also handed a return to action to full back Jordan Williams, one of a total of seven changes from the side that last featured in the Guinness PRO14.
- Bristol Bears and the Dragons have met in the Challenge Cup twice previously with each club registering a home win in the pool stage of the 2006/07 campaign. Both matches were decided by margins of fewer than seven points.
- Bristol have played in four previous Challenge Cup quarter-finals, winning their first match at this stage back in 2000, but losing the following three.
- The Dragons have a 100% success rate in Challenge Cup quarter-finals, winning each of their three matches including an away victory against Gallagher Premiership opposition the last time they reached the last eight (v Gloucester in 2016).
- Bristol have lost just one of their last 10 Challenge Cup games and are unbeaten in their last six in a row (W5, D1), their best run in the competition, however, their solitary defeat in that spell was in last season’s quarter-final (v La Rochelle).
- Only Bordeaux-Bègles (121) scored more second-half points in the pool stage than the Dragons (115), while Bristol (109) scored the third most points in that period.
- Bristol have made the most breaks (96), beaten the most defenders (198) and made the most offloads (66) this season while the Dragons have made the fewest offloads (22).
- Bristol have the best goalkicking success rate this season (94%), slotting each of their eight penalty goal attempts as well as 25 of 27 conversions.
- Bristol’s Luke Morahan (13) made the most clean breaks in the pool stage and he also ranked in the top four players for metres gained (328).
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Bristol Bears ran in seven tries as they secured the first European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final spot after a 56-17 success over Dragons at Ashton Gate on Friday night.
Two tries in three minutes from flanker Ben Earl swung the momentum in the English side’s favour midway through the first half with Bristol looking comfortable after a shaky opening 20 minutes.
It was the Dragons who made a quick start and were soon 10-0 ahead after a Sam Davies three-pointer was followed by a superb cross-field kick from the fly-half who found Ashton Hewitt in space and he fended off Charles Piutau before dotting down.
But Bristol soon hit back after Tompkins didn’t find touch from inside his own 22 and his side were immediately punished by Piutau who split the defence and with penalty advantage, spread from left to right before finding Nathan Hughes who sauntered over in the corner.
The English side then scored tries on 25 and 27 minutes to put them in the driving seat. First was a superb exchange between Piutau and Semi Radradra before breaking the line and finding Ben Earl who slid over the try line.
Oooh what a try that is for @dragonsrugby 🙌
An inch-perfect kick from Sam Davies and Ashton Hewitt does the rest!#ChallengeCup pic.twitter.com/bXz6qSKnTc
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 18, 2020
Earl then got his second in three minutes, this time after a fantastic Radradra step and offload released the flanker who stepped past Jordan Williams in devastating fashion before diving over the line.
Callum Sheedy – who scored a total of 21 points on the night – slotted over a three-pointer just before the break to put Bristol 24-10 up at the interval and the English side would take full control in the second period.
First, it was Sheedy who made a nice break and pulled off a lovely offload to Radradra who got the better of two Dragons defenders before dotting down in the corner.
A sniping score from the back of the ruck by Rhodri Williams gave Dragons hope but that was short-lived as Bristol exploited a tiring Dragons defence in the final 20 minutes.
As if Semi Radradra wasn't going to get in on the act himself 🙌
Two players to beat in the open field and he barely breaks a sweat! So good from the @BristolBears star!#ChallengeCup pic.twitter.com/tjF8VSYZ4E
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 18, 2020
Some clever play from flanker Dan Thomas opened the floodgates as he pinched the ball from the back of the Dragons breakdown and eventually found Chris Vui who swiveled and scored.
A minute later, an incisive breakaway down the right wing allowed Max Malins to grab a try before Thomas completed the scoring after a quick tap and offload gave the flanker the easiest of tries in the corner.
Bristol will face the winners of Bordeaux-Begles and Edinburgh Rugby, with that semi-final taking place next Friday.
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