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Emirates Lions make their EPCR Challenge Cup bow on Saturday against a Dragons RFC side that they beat just two weeks ago in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
On that occasion, a 21-point haul from fly-half Jordan Hendrikse was enough to steer the South African side to a 33-25 win that sees them fifth in the URC table, some eight places higher than their Welsh opponents.
Dragons have struggled in the EPCR Challenge Cup of late, with their last away victory coming in 2019, but they have reached the semi-finals on three previous occasions, so will be hoping that their tournament experience shines through on Saturday.
The Pool B contest will take place at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg, with kick-off at 12:45pm (UK & Irish time) on SuperSport, Viaplay-Premier Sports, and FloRugby.
The HANDS in the @LionsRugbyCo squad are outrageous 🔥
They tore it up in @URCOfficial last year, how will they do on their #ChallengeCupRugby debut? 🦁
Season preview ➡️ https://t.co/WKUmOU6uef pic.twitter.com/xnFGO89UwY
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) November 20, 2022
JJ Hanrahan (Dragons RFC fly-half): “You can’t wait to get smacked in the mouth before you react. We know we can fight back. We know we can stay in games. There is good character in this group, which is a good thing. They care a lot about the club and the team.”
- The Emirates Lions have made the fewest kicks which have been retained in the BKT URC (15).
- The Lions have lost the fewest rucks in the URC, only failing to retain possession from one of these breakdowns 24 times so far this season.
- Protecting their possession well, the Lions’ opponents in the URC have cumulatively averaged the fewest turnovers won (41).
- Sam Davies fully capitalised on opposition errors last season by making more metres from penalties than any other player (1,074). In play, his boot was also a valuable asset, making a competition-high 2,569 metres with his kicks.
- The Dragons achieved the highest rate of gainline success in the EPCR Challenge Cup last season, powering over the advantage line with 66% of their carries.
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Emirates Lions were held to a 31-31 draw with Dragons RFC on their EPCR Challenge Cup debut on Saturday as both sides crossed for four tries in Johannesburg.
The home side’s scores came from Edwill van der Merwe (2), Asenathi Ntlabakanye and Gianni Lombard, the latter adding a further seven points from the tee.
Jordan Williams, Rhodri Williams, Sam Davies and Jack Dixon went over for Dragons, Davies’ boot contributing an additional 11 points.
It was an enthralling first half as neither side was able to wrestle control, Emirates Lions fly-half Lombard exchanging early penalties with Dragons counterpart Davies before both sides notched two tries apiece before the half hour mark.
Full-back Jordan Williams crashed over in the corner for Dragons before Lombard hit back for Emirates Lions with an opportunistic score.
Prop Ntlabakanye then rumbled over for the hosts amid a well-constructed maul, but scrum-half Rhodri Williams dotted down in response for the Welsh region after a sniping break from close range.
First wins of the season go to @SFParisRugby and @BristolBears 👏
Highlights up shortly on our YouTube 🎥 #ChallengeCupRugby pic.twitter.com/daWIYprehA
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) December 9, 2022
And Dragons would go into half-time with the advantage as Rhodri Williams made another clever break and found Davies with an offload, who crossed and converted to put the visitors 24-17 up.
But after the break the momentum swung back in Emirates Lions’ favour, wing van der Merwe crossing twice in four minutes, the first created by a smart kick from replacement fly-half Jordan Hendrikse, and the second by a surging run from flanker Jaco Kriel.
However, Dragons found a response once again as centre Dixon wriggled over on 58 minutes after more good work from Rhodri Williams.
Both sides had chances to snatch victory late on, with Davies off target with a drop-goal before Hendrikse came close with a penalty from halfway in the final act of the game. Both sides take three points from the contest thanks to bonus points for tries scored.
Emirates Lions will enjoy home comforts again next weekend when they host Stade Français Paris in Round 2 on Friday, with Dragons entertaining Section Paloise a week today.
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