Lions claim final day victory
A second half surge by Emirates Lions saw them claim final day victory in an entertaining battle with Dragons in the United Rugby Championship at Rodney Parade.
Dragons went into the final clash of the season without key figures Harri Keddie and Jack Dixon along with Wales forwards Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Ben Carter, Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright.
However, they met the physical challenge of the South African giants head on and took a half-time lead courtesy of a superb try from Rio Dyer.
But the power of the visitors ultimately proved decisive as they wrapped up the win as the curtain fell on the campaign for the Men of Gwent.
Dragons - led out by the departing Adam Warren, Josh Lewis, Joe Maksymiw and Mesake Doge - looked to land some early blows against a big Lions outfit.
The home side were playing some inventive attacking rugby in the sun with Ollie Griffiths and Elliot Dee marauding up field before Jared Rosser and Dyer added threat out wide.
Lions used big ball carriers to try and bust the home defence before a thrilling counter saw Taine Basham burst up field and offload to Gonzalo Bertranou.
Next, a thrilling break down the right flank saw Dyer almost get away before an interception sent Lions racing only for Rosser and Warren to track back and haul Stean Pienaar down to a huge ovation.
The game was being played at frantic pace with both teams looking to offload and keep the ball alive whenever possible to stretch defences.
Lions thought they had the opening score, after a huge scrum against the head, but they were adjudged to have gone off their feet at the final breakdown.
The opening try, instead, came after a superb chase from Josh Lewis put Lions under pressure. The South Africans looked to play wide left from their own 22, but Maksymiw brilliantly picked off a lofted pass and fed Dyer who weaved his way over.
After Dragons were marched backwards for chat, Lions kicked a penalty deep into the home 22 in a bid to land an immediate response.
The driving maul was halted just short, but another penalty saw the South Africans scrum and this time a set piece move sent wing Edwill Van der Merwe over.
A penalty for slapping the ball down gave Will Reed a shot at goal and the young playmaker no mistake as Dragons retook the lead.
And another penalty for not rolling away, after a powerful Griffiths carry, on the stroke of half time allowed Reed to extend the lead to 11-7 at the break.
Lions came out firing at the start of the second half and muscled over with towering lock Ruan Venter the man to dot down under the posts.
Changes saw Lennon Greggains and Chris Coleman introduced, with Doge off on his final appearance at Rodney Parade.
However, it was Lions who were building up a head of steam and who scored a third when prop Ruan Dreyer drove in after relentless forward pressure.
Basham came close to an intercept as Dragons looked for a way back into the game on the hour mark of an absorbing final day battle.
Ryan emptied his bench before Lewis, on his final appearance, intercepted on halfway and raced up to the line only to lose the ball forward and be cruelly denied a farewell score.
Dragons battled to the final whistle but there was to be no fairy-tale end to the campaign as Lions took the spoils.
Timeline: 22m Dyer t 5-0
29m Van der Merwe t Hendrikse c 5-7
32m Reed p 8-7
40m Reed p 11-7
46m Venter t Hendrikse c 11-14
53m Dreyer t Hendrikse c 11-21
Dragons: Jordan Williams (I. Davies 64), Rio Dyer, Adam Warren, Josh Lewis, Jared Rosser, Will Reed (S. Davies 62), Gonzalo Bertranou (Jones 64); Aki Seiuli (Fairbrother 68), Elliot Dee (T. Davies 68), Mesake Doge (Coleman 48), Joe Maksymiw, Huw Taylor, Ben Fry (Greggains 46), Taine Basham, Ollie Griffiths
Replacements: Taylor Davies, Lloyd Fairbrother, Chris Coleman, Max Williams, Lennon Greggains, Lewis Jones, Sam Davies, Ioan Davies. Emirates
Lions: Quan Horn, Stean Pienaar, Henco van Wyk, Matt More, Edwill van der Merwe, Jordan Hendrikse, Morne van den Berg, JP Smith, Jaco Visagie, Ruan Dreyer, Ruan Venter, Reinhard Nothnagel, Sibusiso Sangweni, Vincent Tshituka, Francke Horn
Replacements: PJ Botha, Sti Sithole, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Ruben Schoeman, Jarod Cairns, Andre Warner, Manuel Rass, Tiaan Swanepoel
Referee: Joy Neville (IRFU, 9th league game)