European Challenge CupBordeaux-Begles (8) 36Tries: Gros 2, Jalibert, Connor, Fuatai Cons: Jalibert 4 Pen: Jalibert Dragons (16) 28Tries: Benjamin, Pretorius, Meyer Cons: D Jones 2 Pens: D Jones 3
Dragons went down fighting as a 36-28 defeat away to Bordeaux-Begles saw the end of their European Challenge Cup hopes.
The Welsh side led 16-3 in the first half but were eventually overpowered in the final quarter in France.
James Benjamin, Sarel Pretorius and Carl Meyer got the Dragons tries, with Dorian Jones adding 13 points.
Teenage fly-half Matthieu Jalibert starred with 16 points including a try for the home side.
The injury-hit Dragons faced an uphill battle to repeat recent triumphs in Paris and Pau but started the game at a furious pace, helped by stealing three successive line-outs off the home throw.
Angus O’Brien was yellow-carded for a blatant off-side after 15 minutes with Jalibert knocking over the penalty, but the Dragons stormed back in style.
Jones kicked a penalty, then Benjamin swapped passes with Adam Warren to score a breakaway try after 23 minutes, following a charge-down on Ben Volavola.
Fly-half Jones converted and added two further penalties, but the ever-threatening Jalibert finished off a Bordeaux move in the corner after their big forwards had punched holes.
A 16-8 lead at the interval for the visitors should have been more, but Jared Rosser knocked on after Rynard Landman’s interception set up another chance.
Australian wing Blair Connor touched down from a cross-kick to bring Bordeaux back within a point, only for Pretorius to reply with a glorious side-stepping solo effort to make it 23-15.
Then the extraordinary free-running Fijian prop Peni Ratai set up tries for wing Fa’asui Fuitai and full-back Geoffrey Cros to give Bordeaux the lead on the hour mark.
The momentum of the game was now firmly with the home side as Cros crossed again following Fuatai’s break, with the Dragons desperately reshuffling their side.
But the visitors kept their pride as Meyer blasted over in the corner with the last move, although it was not quite enough to earn a losing bonus-point.
Bordeaux will now travel to Newport on Saturday, 20 January hoping to seal the double and earn a last-eight place as a runner-up.
Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman: “We’re disappointed but proud to be honest.
“Disappointed we didn’t get the win because I felt the win was achievable, and when we look back at the 80 minutes there were moments we could have executed a little better.
“But having said that if you look at the situation we’re in in terms of injuries and how poor the performance was last week, the players responded well and put in a big shift.”
Dragons: Angus O’Brien; Ashton Hewitt, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Jared Rosser; Dorian Jones, Sarel Pretorius; Thomas Davies, Elliot Dee, Lloyd Fairbrother, Rynard Landman, Cory Hill (capt), Aaron Wainwright, James Benjamin, Robson Blake.
Liam Belcher, Luke Garrett, Sam Hobbs, Joe Davies, Carl Meyer, Dan Babos, Gavin Henson, Pat Howard.
Bordeaux Begles: Geoffrey Cros; Fa’asui Fuatai, Romain Lonca (capt), Ben Volavola, Blair Connor; Matthieu Jalibert Gauthier Doubrere; Sébastien Taofifenua, Ole Avei Ravai Kovekalou, Luke Jones, Cyril Cazeaux, Mahamadou Diaby, Alexandre Roumat, Marco Tauleigne.
Adrien Pélissié, Thierry Paiva, Lasha Tabidze, Pierre Gayraud, Leroy Houston, Jules Gimbert, Metuisela Talebulamaijaina, Apisai Naqalevu.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace (England), Jonathan Healy (England)
TMO: David Sainsbury (England)
Citing Commissioner: Dave Guyan (England)