Dragons ready to meet fire with fire
March 26, 2007
Ceri Sweeney will spearhead Newport Gwent Dragons' fight for a European Challenge Cup semi-final place keen to take another French scalp when they clash with Brive at Rodney Parade on Saturday.
"Getting to the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup this year has been a real bonus for us and an opportunity to play some European rugby which is great," said the Wales threequarter.
"I really enjoy playing against the French teams. We were really pleased with our win in Bayonne, which was a great coup for us, and the French pose a real step up in quality.
"Having been at Pontypridd I know Brive pretty well, especially their history, and coming into this tournament as previous Heineken Cup winners makes them a team you have to take seriously. I know they're not doing too well in the French championship at the moment but we will make sure we are properly prepared for the match.
"The French have come off a seven-week rest and the usual advantage of being slightly fresher than them at this stage of the season has been cancelled out.
"But we have had a week off and with just Kevin (Morgan) and Ian (Gough) playing international rugby during the Six Nations we're pretty fresh and ready for this match.
"I've found the tournament to be a real mixed bag in terms of quality in the Pool stages. We played Bucuresti one week and then Bristol - who were at the time top of the Premiership - the next.
"Bayonne are a very good side and we were really pleased with our wins over them but now we are at the knock-out stages there are some real quality sides in the tournament. It looks like it will be a real fight to the finish."
Brive ace Ludovic Valbon has warned the Dragons that the French club mean real business when they clash in the quarter-finals.
"Our relationship with the European Challenge Cup has evolved this season," said the international threequarter. "Back in October, we were struggling in the Top 14 and we were battening down the hatches and concentrating on our top flight survival.
"A lot has changed at the club this season and, although we are still struggling in the league, in the European Challenge Cup we are 'in it to win it' and the great performances we put in during the Pool stages, often missing several key players, are being rewarded by the club in giving us everything we need to go as far as possible in this tournament.
"We are going into this game with seven weeks rest and one Top 14 game to get back into things. It's pretty ideal preparation as one of the problems the French clubs have when playing against the Celtic teams is that they are far fresher than us so this levels the playing field a bit and we are certainly ready to play this game.
"Playing the Welsh has changed greatly since I met the international team playing for France. They have developed a really open style of play, moving the ball around and not being afraid to try things on the pitch. This will be a high tempo game from the Welsh side and a very physical game from ours so I think it's going to be a great match. The competition in this tournament has been good this year and we are definitely looking to try and be en route for Newcastle or Clermont in a few weeks time."
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP 2006 / 2007 QUARTER-FINALS
FRIDAY, 30 MARCH
ASM Clermont Auvergne v Newcastle Falcons 18.00 Parc des Sports Marcel-Michelin
SATURDAY, 31 MARCH
Bath Rugby v Bristol Rugby 12.00 Recreation Ground
Newport Gwent Dragons v Brive 15.00 Rodney Parade
SUNDAY, 1 APRIL
Saracens v Glasgow Warriors 15.00 Vicarage Road
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP 2006 / 2007 SEMI-FINALS
ASM Clermont Auvergne OR Newcastle Falcons v Newport Gwent Dragons OR Brive