Dragons sneak a victory over English giants
Dragons 22 Bath 20
A GRITTY defensive effort earned Newport Gwent Dragons a manic pre-season win against Bath at Rodney Parade tonight.
The Dragons sneaked a 22-20 victory in a close-fought encounter with the Aviva Premiership side that would have no doubt left both management teams heading home lauding a useful workout.
They spent much of the game under pressure but held firm and reaped the rewards in a breathless finale that saw the lead change hands five times in the last 12 minutes.
There is little point in reading too much into pre-season encounters – and last year’s encouraging win against London Irish certainly proved to be a false dawn – but there was a buzz at Rodney Parade.
It was a first glimpse of Lyn Jones’ Dragons and supporters headed back to the stands and terraces full of hope after a positive summer.
They wanted to see some shoots of recovery and reason for optimism ahead of the coming campaign. In the end they were able to leave with a spring in their step.
While the fears of being overpowered up front remain, the Dragons did pretty well against a strong Bath side.
They spent most of the game on the back foot but didn’t gift points away and asked questions with what little ball they did get in hand.
But it was only a friendly and events didn’t really give any clues as to the XV that will line up against Ulster on September 6.
There were strong performances by centre Jack Dixon, back row forwards Lewis Evans, Nic Cudd and Ieuan Jones while scrum-half Richie Rees looked sharp – however, director of rugby Jones and his coaches also have excellent poker faces.
They have frequently gone on record as saying that everyone has started with a clean slate and last night everyone got a go.
Both teams gave their team managers rigorous cardiovascular workouts ahead of the new campaign by using all the fit members of their squads, 61 in total.
That naturally punctuated the flow of the game but everybody got a hit out.
It was all about preparation so in that sense it was handy that morning sun made way for afternoon and evening rain – it just wouldn’t be a Friday night at Rodney Parade without drizzle and slippery conditions.
A greasy ball and frequent substitutions meant it was a fractured affair with neither side really building up a head of steam.
After a predictably scrappy start it was the Dragons that opened the scoring when three Evans combined off the back of a five-metre scrum – number eight Lewis feeding scrum-half Jonathan who put full-back Dan over.
Returning fly-half Jason Tovey converted but a 30-metre drive off a lineout and powerful scrum enabled opposite number George Ford to make it 7-3 after a quarter.
It was scrappy fare but the visitors were just about edging it and they got the lead they deserved approaching the half hour.
Scrambling defence dashed a number of darts at the line before hooker Rob Webber powered over, Ford adding the extras for a 10-7 lead at the break.
Bath, benefiting from not emptying the bench, bossed matters from the restart with the Dragons struggling to cope with the visitors’ driving lineout, solid scrum and power game.
The hosts had a series of scrapes but encouragingly held out – Bath scored 11 tries against Bristol last weekend but got no ‘gimmes’ at Rodney Parade.
The defensive efforts paid off when Kris Burton made amends for an earlier shank by nailing a pair of penalties for a 13-10 lead.
It didn’t last long.
The Dragons won a turnover but Wayne Evans passed loosely to enable Bath wing Anthony Watson to hack through and dot down.
Scotland fly-half Tom Heathcote converted only for Burton the Boot to respond to make it 17-16 entering the final exchanges.
Then came a manic finale with Tovey, then Heathcote, then Tovey knocking over penalties before Heathcote sliced an effort with the last kick.
Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, A Hughes, J Tovey, J Evans, N Williams, R Thomas (captain), D Way, A Jones, M Screech, J Groves, N Cudd, L Evans. Replacements used: H Gustafson, A Coundley, F Chaparro, I Nimmo, S Matthews, R Rees, K Burton, H Amos, N Buck, S Parry, O Evans, W Evans, R Wardle, M Pewtner, J Skinner, I Jones.
Scorers: tries – D Evans; conversions – J Tovey; penalties – K Burton (2), J Tovey (3)
Bath: O Devoto, S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond, T Biggs, G Ford, M Young, C Beech, R Webber, D Wilson, S Hooper (captain), D Attwood, M Garvey, G Mercer, L Houston
Replacements used: R Batty, A Perenise, K Palma-Newport, D Day, M Gilbert, M Roberts, T Heathcote, A Watson, T Dunn, W Spencer, W Skuse, N Koster, P Stringer, M Banahan, A Fa'osiliva
Scorers: tries – R Webber, A Watson; conversions – G Ford, T Heathcote; penalties – G Ford, T Heathcote.
Referee: Neil Hennessy