STADE Jean-Bouin, Kingston Park, Stade du Hameau, Kingsholm, all grounds where the Dragons have enjoyed magical moments on the road in Europe in recent years.

An argument could be made for tomorrow evening’s Challenge Cup quarter-final presenting the chance for a victory at Ashton Gate that would top the lot.


It would be a terrific win but if the Dragons truly feel that they are making progress under Dean Ryan then this shouldn’t be considered their finest hour.

The wins at Stade Francais, Newcastle, Pau and Gloucester were magical because of the surprise factor. There was hope but no expectation.

The same will apply to an extent in Bristol but this is a very different Dragons team and a very different organisation.

The region still have their familiar issues with squad depth, and that is a problem that will remain given their playing budget and the hectic fixture schedule.

But they boast a matchday 23 that has it in them to beat a team that sits just outside the play-off zone in the English Premiership.

The Dragons provided six players to Wayne Pivac’s Six Nations squad – hooker Elliot Dee, tighthead Leon Brown, back row forwards Aaron Wainwright, Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham, and fly-half Sam Davies (plus Cory Hill, who has since left) – while Ashton Hewitt and Ollie Griffiths got the call for the November fixture against the Barbarians.

South Wales Argus:

This summer director of rugby Ryan added three Test players – Jamie Roberts, Nick Tompkins and Jonah Holmes.

I remember looking through matchday programmes as a youngster for the asterisks next to the names of internationals.

The XV that I expect to take to the field in Bristol would have nine such individuals. It would stretch to double figures if once-capped centre Adam Warren was shifted to the wing because of the arrivals of Roberts and Tompkins.

Hewitt and Basham have been in Test camp but are not yet Test players while Brok Harris and Matthew Screech are consistently excellent performers in club rugby.

That leaves just Joe Davies, who won Ryan’s praise for his work ethic last year, or Joe Maksymiw, a summer signing from Connacht.

This is a strong Dragons line-up featuring players who have experienced the pressure of this sport at the highest level.

They are also a team that is fresh from an encouragingly solid first campaign under Ryan.

The troughs came during international periods when the squad was stretched and the peaks were in big derby games.

In five tussles with Welsh rivals they won two in Newport, drew at the Ospreys, pushed Cardiff Blues hard to leave the Arms Park with a losing bonus before a mix-and-match side was eventually overpowered by the Scarlets in the final quarter.

The Dragons proved their big-match credentials in those games and have since added players who have played in even bigger occasions.

Sadly they won’t be taking to the pitch in front of packed stands at Ashton Gate but this is an encounter that test their composure and put them under pressure.

Yet this is a side featuring players that have experience of World Cup semi-finals, Grand Slam deciders and Lions tours.

Compare this XV to the one from the memorable win at Stade Francais, when novice fly-half Angus O'Brien pulled the strings after Jason Tovey put his passport through the wash.

Tom Prydie was a makeshift centre and James Thomas was called into the action after just four minutes because of an injury to Andrew Coombs.

There were seven international starters - Coombs, Prydie, Taulupe Faletau, Hallam Amos and former Test players Lee Byrne, Richie Rees and T Rhys Thomas.

South Wales Argus:

Against Gloucester there were just four Test players – Tyler Morgan, Adam Warren, Hallam Amos and Taulupe Faletau. Their combined tally of Wales caps in 2016 was 68, of which Faletau had 57.

Ryan’s likely nine international starters boast 217 caps, of which Roberts has 94 Welsh appearances.

Past wins have been huge upsets but can the same truly be said when there is a back line featuring Roberts, Tompkins and Holmes, guided by experienced half-backs Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies?

The back row of Wainwright-Basham-Moriarty is up there with the best while Leon Brown was named in the PRO14 Dream Team and is joined in the front row by Harris and Dee.

The only player that Ryan is without is Ollie Griffiths but the Dragons can still field a formidable back row with Harri Keddie in pole position to provide cover from the bench.

This is as good as they've got for what is undoubtedly a stern challenge against an exciting Bristol team.

In Paris, Pau and especially Newcastle and Gloucester the Dragons profited from being taken lightly, viewed as something of a ragtag bunch from a basket case club.

There is no chance of that this time because this is not a side of up-and-coming talent and Bears boss Lam has already made a point of listing their players "who can pull out a big game".

There are a handful of wins in the past that were so wonderful because nobody that wasn't in the Dragons' changing room saw them coming.

They are underdogs in Bristol but this would be no miracle success given the side that Ryan will name at midday.