Lions and Dragons share spoils in Challenge Cup thriller
CHALLENGE CUP REPORT: The Lions and the Dragons played out a thrilling 31-31 draw in a Challenge Cup opener in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Both teams scored four tries in the match with the goal-kickers also putting in standout performances.
There was some late drama when replacement flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse had an opportunity to win the game with a long-range penalty. However, he didn’t get his direction right.
Both teams earned three log points.
The home side’s scores came from Edwill van der Merwe (2), Asenathi Ntlabakanye and Gianni Lombard, the latter adding a further eight 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, Lions flyhalf Lombard exchanging early penalties with Dragons counterpart Davies before both sides notched two tries apiece before the half hour mark.
Fullback Jordan Williams crashed over in the corner for Dragons before Lombard hit back for Lions with an opportunistic score.
Prop Ntlabakanye then rumbled over for the hosts amid a well-constructed maul, but scrumhalf Rhodri Williams dotted down in response for the Welsh region after a sniping break from close range.
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 the Lions’ favour, wing Van der Merwe crossing twice in four minutes, the first created by a smart kick from replacement flyhalf Hendrikse, and the second by a surging run from flank 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.
The Lions will enjoy home comforts again next weekend when they host Stade Français Paris in Round Two on Friday, with Dragons entertaining Section Paloise next Saturday.
Man of the match: Lions wing Edwill van der Merwe showed off his finishing skills with two tries. Flank Jaco Kriel rolled back the years with several powerful runs. Dragons No.8 Ross Moriarty tested the Lions’ defence with several powerful carries as well. However, the award goes to Dragons scrumhalf Rhodri Williams, who was a livewire on the field. He scored a try and played a big role in two other scores.
Tries: Lombard, Ntlabakanye, Van der Merwe 2
Cons: Lombard 2, Hendrikse 2
Tries: J Williams, R Williams, S Davies, Dixon
Cons: S Davies 4
Pen: S Davies
Yellow card: Jean-Pierre Smith (Lions, 65′ – foul play, tripping an opponent)
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Sango Xamlashe, 12 Zander du Plessis, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Emmanuel Tshituka, 7 Darrien Landsberg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain), 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Rynhardt Jonker.
Dragons: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Jared Rosser, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Ashton Hewitt, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Harrison Keddie (captain), 6 Matthew Screech, 5 Ben Carter, 4 Joe Davies, 3 Chris Coleman, 2 Bradley Roberts, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Brodie Coghlan, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Aaron Wainwright, 20 Ben Fry, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Will Reed, 23 Steff Hughes.
Referee: Anthony Woodshorpe
Assistant referees: Dan Jones, George Selwood
TMO: Dean Richards
Additional source: @ChallengeCup_