THE Dragons hopes of making the last four of the European Challenge Cup were comprehensively ended by a stunning Semi and his free-flowing Bears in Bristol.

The Rodney Parade region headed to Ashton Gate hunting an upset and their hopes of a fourth quarter-final victory in the tournament were boosted by a terrific start.

A well-worked try for Ashton Hewitt put them 10-0 but then the Bears hit the afterburners with a sensational spell that took the game away, with off-loading Fijian superstar centre Semi Radradra to the fore.

It was exactly as Dean Ryan had predicted at the Tuesday press conference – the director of rugby had warned that there would be periods when the high-risk Bristol game would get high rewards.

The key was to stay composed but that’s easier said than done and Pat Lam’s side never looked back from a six-minute spell in which they turned 10-0 into 21-10.

Free Press Series:

When Radradra glided over from long range at the start of the second half it looked game over, captain Rhodri Williams kept the Dragons just about in touch but a miraculous comeback never looked like happening.

In fact, Bristol had one last burst in them to score tries five, six and seven in the closing stages.

In the end it was the battle-hardened Bears, guided by the imperious and impish fly-half Callum Sheedy, that took the spoils against a Dragons team that hadn’t played since the PRO14 derbies at the end of August, and also had a couple of untested combinations.

The region headed over the Severn Bridge with arguably their strongest ever XV featuring a trio of summer international recruits in wing Jonah Holmes outside centres Jamie Roberts and Nick Tompkins.

The sole absentee was dynamic back row forward Ollie Griffiths, not available because of a hamstring strain but encouragingly part of the pre-match warm-up.

The Dragons were strong yet still underdogs against a Bristol team that put teams under huge pressure with their wide, high-octane game in which everybody is expected to be able to shift the ball.

The Bears boasted contenders for a World XV in Radradra, Charles Piutau and Kyle Sinckler yet it has been the strength of the unit that has made them such an impressive side under Pat Lam, who achieved the same when turning Connacht into PRO14 title winners.

Dragons boss Ryan said his side needed to stay calm when under the pump, that the visitors had to avoid getting drawn into a Bristol-style way of playing.

Hopes were high for a thriller but it was an extremely cagey opening with the action between the 22s and plenty of reset scrums.

The Dragons won’t have minded that, especially when they opened the scoring in the 11th minute courtesy of a Sam Davies penalty after Piutau had made the poor decision to try and run out from his own 22 only for Roberts to get over the ball.

Free Press Series:

A 3-0 lead soon became 10-0 thanks to a beauty of a try straight from the Ystrad Mynach training paddock.

Lineout ball given to Davies who kicked perfectly to the left wing for Hewitt to claim and dance past Piutau for a score that his fly-half converted.

The Dragons’ aggressive defence was forcing Bristol into handling errors but from nowhere their 10-point lead was turned into a 14-point deficit.

It was exactly as predicted by Ryan – the Bears had a magical spell where they piled on the pressure with majestic rugby.

First came a Nathan Hughes score when the Bears went left and then right from an attack sparked by Piutau from deep.

Next was a wonderful score by flanker Ben Earl, who finished off after Bristol had used heavy traffic in midfield to get Radradra on the outside break, Piutau with the final pass.

The Dragons were soon back under their posts with the pick of the three tries – Radradra with a stunning offload and Earl with a sidestep to get past Jordan Williams, who is more used to being the one dazzling with fast feet.

Hughes went over after 20 minutes, Earl got his second on 26.

Callum Sheedy converted all three and then added a penalty before the Dragons had a chance to respond at the end of the half.

Penalties were kicked to the corner rather than the posts and it felt like a key moment when they were eventually pinged by referee Mathieu Raynal with the clock in the red.

A tough task got tougher shortly after the restart when Sheedy spotted Brok Harris in the defensive line to burst through and put Radradra in motion with the Fijian, who was man of the match, then making a mug of Rhodri Williams and Sam Davies.

Free Press Series:

The Dragons responded well with captain Rhodri Williams going under the posts after a dummy and then a shimmy in the 22.

This was, of course, cup rugby and Bristol stretched their lead to 34-17 thanks to a scrum penalty approaching the hour.

There was still time for one last burst from the Bears after a Sheedy penalty with lock Chris Vui spinning over and then Max Malins finishing off from an attack that started in the Bristol 22 and exposed poor defence.

Bristol are not a side to show any mercy and a seventh followed through Welshman Dan Thomas to make it a crushing 56-17 scoreline to end the Dragons’ long, long 2019/20 campaign.

Bristol: C Piutau, L Morahan, S Radradra, P O’Conor, H Purdy, C Sheedy, A Uren, J Woolmore, H Thacker, K Sinckler, D Attwood, C Vui, S Luatua (captain), B Earl, N Hughes. Replacements: W Capon, Y Thomas, J Afoa, J Joyce, D Thomas, H Randall, M Malins, A Leiua.
Scorers: tries – N Hughes, B Earl (2), S Radradra, Chris Vui, M Malins, D Thomas; conversions – C Sheedy (6); penalties – C Sheedy (3)

Dragons: J Williams, J Holmes, N Tompkins (A Warren 78), J Roberts, A Hewitt, S Davies, R Williams (L Baldwin 74, B Harris (J Reynolds 60), E Dee (R Hibbard 60), L Brown (L Fairbrother 60), J Davies (J Maksymiw 70), M Screech, A Wainwright, H Keddie (T Basham 54), R Moriarty.
Scorers: tries – A Hewitt, R Williams; conversions – S Davies (2); penalties – S Davies

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)