Newport Gwent Dragons stand on the verge of history. On Friday they do battle with Edinburgh for a place in the EPCR Challenge Cup Final, a feat they have never achieved since they were formed in 2003.
Dragons best performance in this tournament came back in 2007, when – as now – they reached the semi-final stage. On that occasion they were beaten by French opposition in the form of Clermont, but it is Scottish adversaries that stand between them and the final this time around.
It has been quite a ride to get to this stage. In Pool 3, Dragons overcame Bucharest Wolves, Stade Francais and Newcastle Falcons over six games to finish top of the pile, before a brilliant win over arch rivals Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade in the quarter-final.
Dragons had to withstand an almighty late surge from the Blues to book their last 4 berth. They battled through the final five minutes with just a four point advantage, knowing that one mistake could cost them their dream. Resolute defence saw them through, however, giving them a road trip to look forward to on April 17th.
That road trip takes them to Edinburgh, with the added spice to the fixture being that the two teams are one place apart in the Guinness Pro 12 table. Their last meeting in October saw the Scottish side run out 24-10 victors, but Dragons have a better record overall in previous clashes. There have been 25 games between the teams, with the Welsh side claiming 13 wins to Edinburgh’s 11.
Edinburgh’s road to this stage has been similar to the Dragons. Five Pool stage wins and a solitary defeat to Lyon ensured their passage to the knock-out round before a quarter final victory away at London Irish secured their last four place.
It appears that Newport have hit peak form at just the right of the season. Following from that quarter-final triumph over the Blues, they welcomed Leinster to Rodney Parade and knocked off the Irish side with a fine display. Dragons were 14 points down at one stage, but put together a rousing comeback to claim the bonus point victory.
Conversely, Edinburgh head in to the semi-final on the back of a heavy defeat. They went down 34-3 to Munster, who showed their credentials as title contenders. Whether or not this defeat will serve to hurt or inspire the Scots is another matter, and one the Dragons will have to be wary of.
The second semi-final, taking place on Saturday, features two English clubs. Gloucester host Exeter Chiefs in what promises to be a pulsating encounter. The Chiefs will probably start as slight favourites given their position in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and their victory over Northampton Saints coming in to this fixture, but home advantage at Kingsholm cannot be discounted.
By the end of the weekend, two clubs will be preparing for a trip to The Stoop, while two will be licking their wounds and trying to raise their game for the final few weeks of the campaign. The Dragons will be keen to extend their season until May 1st.
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