TAINE Basham scored a hat-trick as the Dragons started their European Challenge Cup campaign in perfect style with a four-try, 31-18 win against Castres.

Director of rugby Dean Ryan tinkered with his team after starting the Guinness PRO14 with a settled side but still got a bonus-point win that gives the region a golden chance to mount a bid for the quarter-finals.

Basham went over three times in the first half along with wing Dafydd Howells to earn a 28-10 lead at the break.

The second half was a nervier affair as Castres bossed territory and possession but the Dragons got over the line to match Worcester’s bonus-point victory at Enisei-STM.

If Ryan’s men avoid a banana skin in Krasnodar on Friday then they will be in good shape ahead of the December double-header with the Warriors.

The new boss’ priority may be the league but getting the job done against Castres, French champions in 2013 and 2018, presents a chance to add to the memorable Challenge Cup moments from recent years.

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Ryan will have been pleased with the performance of his side after he made eight changes to the XV that put in a spirited display in the PRO14 defeat to Edinburgh.

Castres also tinkered with their line-up after edging out Brive last week but they looked nowhere near as cohesive until the second half.

Plenty of Dragons have had to be patient in the first few months of the season and they took their chance to give the management a headache.

Full-back Will Talbot-Davies and flanker James Benjamin did well and centre Tom Griffiths, the summer signing from Saracens on his debut after being sidelined by an ankle operation, produced some encouraging moments in a strong midfield partnership with Tyler Morgan.

Basham will get the plaudits after his try-scoring exploits that will have caught the eye of Wales boss Wayne Pivac, who was in the Bisley Stand, but a man at the other end of the age spectrum was superb.

Hooker Richard Hibbard was to the fore of the defensive effort with some shuddering hits, he carried hard and got the driving lineout going.

Added to that, fly-half Sam Davies pulled the strings nicely and tighthead Leon Brown continued his strong start to the season – both could get a call from Pivac for the Barbarians fixture.

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It was the first-half effort that set the tone, with the Dragons enjoying a dream first quarter despite the visitors opening the scoring.

Ludovic Radosavljevic accepted a gift of a penalty – scrum-half Luke Baldwin picking up a Basham knock-on from an offside position – to boot Castres into a second minute lead.

The Dragons responded superbly and after Talbot-Davies and flanker Benjamin combined for a break into the 22, a penalty was kicked to the corner rather than the posts.

Hooker Hibbard hit lock Max Williams, the drive was low and strong then number eight Basham crashed over for a try that Davies converted from the left touchline.

The Dragons went back to the corner when wing Howells was stopped by a high tackle after a powerful burst down the right.

The result was the same – Basham try, Davies conversion.

The drive was stopped illegally but the Dragons hammered at the line with penalty advantage before the 20-year-old from Talywain wriggled over.

A splendid start soon became a perfect one with try number three before a quarter had been played.

Hibbard missed his man at the lineout and Castres pounced on the loose ball only for a wide, speculative pass from the next phase to be picked off by Howells.

He raced under the posts and Davies converted for a 21-3 lead from a contest that was more even than the scoreline suggests.

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The Dragons had the edge in converting pressure into points – both their trips to the 22 had yielded seven points – and they were also on the right side of referee JP Doyle’s penalty count.

They were in control but then shot themselves in the foot in the 26th minute to return the favour to Castres with sloppy passing along the line before Canadian wing Taylor Paris raced under the posts from a loose ball from Tyler Morgan. Radosavljevic converted.

The Wales centre nearly made amends with a grubber kick that earned a five-metre scrum but this time, after two further penalties were sent back to the corner, Castres escaped.

At 21-10, the next score was crucial and the Frenchmen missed a golden chance in the 22 when the ball was spilt and Morgan booted clear… what would prove to be a crucial kick.

Castres won the resulting lineout and spread the quick ball, only for Basham to pick off the pass and race over from halfway for the bonus-point score.

Davies converted and it was 28-10 but the Dragons wanted, and needed, to keep the tempo high in the second half.

It wasn’t job done and the hosts were under the pump after conceding a scrum penalty and then seeing three more penalties kicked to the corner.

A yellow card and penalty try seemed on the cards, but then an accidental offside gifted the Dragons an escape.

However, they were under the pump again when lock Williams was sin-binned after 55 minutes for a cynical offside five metres out after a burst from Castres centre Florian Vialelle.

The visitors got the reward their pressure deserved when neat offloading put Radosavljevic over for a try that he converted to cut it to 28-17 on the hour.

The Dragons needed a response and swiftly got one with a Davies settler from the tee to make it 31-17.

However, they were back under pressure when penalties were kicked to the corner but Castres then knocked on just as they were close to making it a seven-point game with 12 minutes to go.

The French side continued to dominate but failed to make the pressure count, missing out on what may turn out to be a vital consolation bonus.

Dragons: W Talbot-Davies, D Howells, T Morgan, T Griffiths (J Dixon 52), O Jenkins (J Botica 60-67), S Davies, L Baldwin (T Knoyle 51), A Jarvis (B Harris 40), R Hibbard (captain, R Lawrence 75), L Brown (L Fairbrother 60), J Davies (B Fry 65), M Williams, H Taylor, J Benjamin (M Screech 55), T Basham.

Scorers: tries – T Basham (3), D Howells; conversions – S Davies (4); penalty – S Davies

Yellow card: M Williams

Castres: B Lapeyre, F Nakosi, F Vialelle, Y David , T Paris, L Radosavljevic (captain), J Fernandez, W de Benedittis, K Firmin, P Fa'anunu, K Gimeno, H N'Kinsi, C Gerondeau, M Vaipulu, A Tulou. Replacements: P Sauzaret, T Stroe, M Tierney, C Samson, A Jelonch, T Fortunel, R Ebersohn, A Batlle.

Scorers: tries – T Paris, L Radosavljevic; conversions – L Radosavljevic (2); penalty – L Radosavljevic

Referee: JP Doyle (England)

Attendance: 4,013

Argus star man: Richard Hibbard