London Welsh 14 Dragons 42
WHEN a man from Wales’ past was called from the bench by London Welsh, the youngsters for Wales’ future fired Newport Gwent Dragons to victory in the LV= Cup.
It didn’t look like it would matter when Gavin Henson, fresh on the pitch, was wide with a conversion as the game headed towards the final quarter.
The Exiles led 14-9 and the Dragons had produced very little in an uninspiring game.
But then the Rodney Parade region stung them with 33 unanswered points, scoring three tries in the last 10 minutes to secure a remarkable win.
First full-back Hallam Amos jinked over the line, then number eight and his fellow Wales Under-20s starlet Ieuan Jones powered over and then flanker Jevon Groves intercepted to race away.
It was a tremendous finale that frankly wasn’t in keeping with a game that had been uninspiring up to then – and it gives the Dragons’ young guns the message to back themselves rather than go into their shells.
The Dragons headed into the game on the back of a hard-earned home derby win against the Ospreys in awful conditions when they got over the line thanks to six penalties by Steffan Jones.
When the rain was lashing down at Rodney Parade there was an excuse for playing a limited game, on a crisp afternoon in Oxford there were no mitigating factors.
Neither side had a chance of making the semi-finals so a dead rubber should have led to the players playing with gay abandon, to express themselves, as coaches tend to say.
No such luck for an hour.
It was a game littered with errors, the whistle of terrible referee Andrew Small and muddled thinking, summed up by full-back Amos having a crack at a drop goal from half- way.
The talented schoolboy might have been OK had he been playing at the high altitude of Ellis Park, Johannesburg, rather than a chilly Kassam Stadium, Oxford.
Instead the crowd was treated to the sight of the ball wobbling through the air and just about making it to the 22.
At least he was to go on to show he learns as rapidly on the pitch as he does in the classroom, but it was a moment that encapsulated the first half, the Dragons seemed to be playing within themselves, using the boot rather than stretching the legs.
There wasn’t much for the small crowd to cheer with neither side managing to play with any continuity.
The Exiles led 9-6 at the break thanks to three penalties by fly-half Ryan Davies to two by opposite number Steffan Jones.
They were good value for that, having the nudge at the set piece and looking the more threatening with ball in hand, although that’s like saying Bobby Charlton has more hair than Kojak.
Jones levelled early in the second half but the game descended into the same pattern, with wrong options and inaccurate passes disrupting the flow.
The line was finally crossed on 55 minutes but even that wasn’t a score to get the crowd off their seats, London Welsh flanker Ed Williamson driven over from a lineout.
Henson was wide with the conversion and was made to rue that inaccuracy when a hat trick of penalties by Jones meant that the Dragons somehow edged in front entering the final quarter.
They finally woke up and played some enterprising rugby, with Amos and Wales Under-20s team-mate Jack Dixon leading the charge.
And while Henson spluttered, kicking terribly out of hand, the Dragons fired.
Amos finished off with some lovely feet, the seven points saving him from a rocket for ignoring Matthew Pewtner on his outside, and then number eight Jones barged over from close range.
The win was secured when Groves pounced on a stray pass to race over and Jones converted before kicking his seventh penalty with the last play – three points that set a Dragons record of 27 points and levelled Jason Tovey’s record of seven penalties in a game for the region.
Now they can head into the RaboDirect Pro12 home double against Treviso and Glasgow in fine fettle and chase four wins on the spin.
Like Wales in the Six Nations, the Dragons have been frustratingly slow starters this season but they have the chance to at least provide some cheer at the finish.
London Welsh: T Voyce, J Ajuwa, G Tiesi, S Parker, P MacKenzie, R Davis (G Henson 52), A Davies (T Keats 62), T Bristow (J Tideswell 50), N Briggs (G Evans 69), G Bateman (F Montanella 50), J Mills, M Corker, L Beach (captain), R Newman (E Williamson 14), D Browne (A Brown 47).
Scorers: Tries – E Williamson; penalties – R Davis (3).
Dragons: H Amos, M Pewtner, P Leach, J Dixon, T Prydie, S Jones, W Evans (captain), O Evans (P Price 57), H Gustafson (S Parry 71), D Way (N Williams 62), I Nimmo, A Jones (J Tyler 70), J Groves, D Waters (N Cudd 50), I Jones.
Scorers: Tries – H Amos, I Jones, J Groves; conversions – S Jones (3); penalties – S Jones (7).
Referee: Andrew Small.
Argus star man: Wayne Evans.