Emirates Lions Favourites To Start EPCR Campaign With A Close Win Against Dragons RFC


The Emirates Lions will make history on Saturday as the first of two South African teams to participate in the 2022/23 EPCR Challenge Cup against the Dragons at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg at 12h45 (SA time).

Fresh from a home victory last week in the Vodacom URC, the focus now shifts to the EPCR Challenge Cup, where the Johannesburgers will look to stamp their authority in what will be a historic occasion for the franchise and its supporters. 

Their visitors, the Dragons RFC lost to the DHL Stormers 26-34 a week ago, however, it was a much-improved performance from the men from Gwent who will go into their second match against the Emirates Lions with a lot more confidence.

The squads return to Johannesburg to face the Emirates Lions for the second time in three games on the club’s South Africa tour. The Emirates Lions beat the Dragons RFC 33-25 in the first match.

Earlier this week, Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen spoke about his squad selection ahead of what will be a testing eight weeks for his troops in their respective competitions.

“We’ve rotated and rested a few guys in recent games,” said Van Rooyen. “We saw Jaco Kriel make a comfortable return to play after a long injury last week.

“It’s pleasing to know that we have a relatively healthy squad with no new injuries. These next two weeks at home will be an ideal opportunity to subtly rotate the squad especially looking at the spine of the squad.”

Due the magnitude of the EPCR Challenge Cup, it’s a dream for any player to be part of such a historic occasion. However, Van Rooyen believes squad management is key.

“If we’re honest about the bigger picture in terms of the number of games ahead, the core group will be involved in both international competitions,” he said.

Of course, for some of these players it will be nice to play in our first EPCR Challenge Cup game, but hopefully we can get close to the playoffs and have everyone available at that juncture. Ultimately, it’s about balancing the bigger picture and being part of this historic occasion.”

Centre Rynhardt Jonker makes his debut for the Emirates Lions off the bench, while experienced fullback Andries ‘Boeboes’ Coetzee returns in concert with Edwill van der Merwe and Rabz Maxwane at the back. Zander du Plessis gets a starting opportunity at inside centre alongside Sango Xamlashe. 

Wales international duo Ben Carter and Rhodri Jones return to the starting line-up as two of nine changes made by the Dragons RFC.

Carter and Jones, who both featured for Wales during the autumn, are named in a pack that also includes returns for prop Chris Coleman, lock Joe Davies and back-row captain Harri Keddie.

Matthew Screech moves to wear the six jersey while Bradley Roberts and Ross Moriarty are retained.

Playmaker Sam Davies is back to partner Rhodri Williams at half-back. Wings Ashton Hewitt and Jared Rosser could both feature in South Africa for the first time.

Sio Tomkinson moves to centre, partnering the recalled Jack Dixon, while Jordan Williams also has a positional change as he slots into the full back role.

Dragons Academy product Brodie Coghlan could make his club debut off the bench while there is also a place for fit-again prop Rob Evans among the replacements.

“Lions are a very tough opening game for us,” said Head Coach Dai Flanagan. “You saw what they did to a strong Scarlets last weekend in Johannesburg. We know what is coming.

“I have been clear with the group; we need to use the squad with European rugby and derby games coming up.

“We have a fantastic squad here and I am looking forward to dropping some players in who haven’t played yet in South Africa and seeing how they perform.”

Prediction: Lions by 5 points.


Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Rabz 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 PJ Botha, 1 Sti Sithole. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Rynhardt Jonker.

Dragons RFC: 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 (c), 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.