BERNARD Jackman is excited about the Dragons testing themselves against European heavyweights after being drawn against Clermont Auvergne and Northampton in the Challenge Cup

The Rodney Parade region will also face Timisoara Saracens in Pool One of the second tier tournament.

The Dragons made the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup in 2015 and 2016 and if they are to repeat that feat then they will have to come out on top against two teams that traditionally feature in the Champions Cup.

Clermont, French champions and European runners-up in 2017, are playing in the second tier for the first time since 2006/7 when they beat the Dragons in the last four before lifting the trophy.

Fellow Champions Cup regulars Northampton, who the Dragons host in pre-season, won the competition in 2009 and 2014.

“Next year’s Challenge Cup is the strongest that I have seen and we have a tough draw, but it’s exciting,” said Jackman.

“We want to test ourselves against the best and this means we will do that.

“I've been lucky enough to go to the Stade Marcel Michelin with Leinster and during my time in France and it's unbelievable, the best ground in Europe.

"They had a tough season on the back of lifting the Bouclier de Brennus but are a top quality side.

"Speaking to (new signing) Aaron Jarvis, it's not in Clermont's mentality to not go hell for leather, even if it's in the Challenge Cup rather than the Champions Cup.

"Northampton are also a quality team and have recruited strongly under Chris Boyd, so that will be another great challenge.

"We narrowly missed out on the quarter-finals last year and we really want to do something in Europe next season after admiring how Cardiff Blues won it.

“Our home games will be massive and we need to grab 10 points from Timisoara Saracens.”

The clash with the Saints could mean a reunion with scrum-half Charlie Davies, who left the Dragons at the end of last season, and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar.

They will also return to Romania to face the Saracens after doubling Bucuresti Wolves in 2014.

The fixtures are yet to be announced.

POOL ONE: Northampton, Clermont Auvergne, Dragons, Timisoara Saracens

POOL TWO: Pau, Ospreys, Worcester, Stade Francais

POOL THREE: Sale, Connacht, Bordeaux-Begles, Perpignan

POOL FOUR: La Rochelle, Zebre, Bristol, Enisei-STM

POOL FIVE: Benetton, Harlequins, Agen, Grenoble


European weekends

Round 1: 12/13/14 October

Round 2: 19/20/21 October

Round 3: 7/8/9 December

Round 4: 14/15/16 December

Round 5: 11/12/13 January 2019

Round 6: 18/19/20 January 2019

Quarter-finals: 29/30/31 March 2019

Semi-finals: 19/20/21 April 2019

2019 Newcastle finals

Challenge Cup final: Friday 10 May, St James’ Park

Continental Shield final: TBC, Kingston Park

Champions Cup final: Saturday 11 May, St James’ Park