5:09pm Tuesday 10th June 2014
By Chris Kirwan
HEAD coach Kingsley Jones is relishing the chance for Newport Gwent Dragons to test themselves in a pressure cooker Parisian atmosphere next season.
The Rodney Parade region have been drawn against Stade Francais in the European Rugby Challenge Cup along with Newcastle and a tier two qualifier from a competition that will be held in September.
The Parisians are arguably the most high profile club in the second-tier tournament and boast Italy superstar Sergio Parisse, South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn, Australia speedster Digby Ioane, Samoa full-back Paul Williams and France lock Pascal Pape in their ranks, while former Newport favourite Simon Raiwalui is on the coaching team at the Stade Jean-Bouin.
"Paris is a great trip for the supporters and it will be fantastic for the players to test themselves in an important game in a big stadium," said Jones.
"Stade Francais had a poor end to the season but they are quality side with quality players and they will be disappointed not to be in the Rugby Champions Cup.
"We want the Dragons to be involved in high-profile games like this and it's also great that we'll be welcoming them to Rodney Parade, which I am sure they will not be looking forward to."
While Stade are the star attraction of Pool Three, Newcastle will present a stern challenge after a summer recruitment drive that has seen them sign Alex and Andy Tuilagi plus Italy lock Josh Furno.
The Falcons thrashed the Dragons 29-0 in the LV= Cup last season and will be much stronger next term after securing their Aviva Premiership status.
Jones said: "It's a good draw and a nice mix of teams. I know a lot about Newcastle from my Premiership days (with Sale) and they will be a strong team under Dean Richards. It's a tough place to go but we've got to see ourselves as having a chance up there.
"Then there is the team that will qualify and I know from working with Russia that there are some quality players in tier two rugby."
With three of the five runners-up qualifying for the knockout stages, the Dragons will be hopeful of extending their European campaign beyond January.
Last season they enjoyed a fantastic home success against Bordeaux-Begles but were overpowered by Bath home and away.
"Our focus at the moment is to start the Pro12 season well but this will be a nice break from the league," said Jones.
"It's great to be involved in this tournament and if we get success in the early group games then it will certainly set us up to give it a real crack."
Cardiff Blues will fancy their chances of making the quarter-finals after being drawn against London Irish, Grenoble and a FIRA qualifier.
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