Dragons 23 Scarlets 16 – Dragons thrill fans with fantastic win on Parade
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons delivered a stunning statement of intent at Rodney Parade by winning a RaboDirect thriller against the Scarlets.
The Rodney Parade region, who finished one from bottom last season, had earned plenty of respect when they beat 2012/13 runners-up Ulster on opening weekend.
And, like the old days, the rest of the league will be wary of heading to Newport after they backed up that victory with a tremendous 23-16 win against their rivals from the west.
The campaign may be just three weeks old but the message is loud and clear from the Dragons – we ain't resigned to being four Welsh region this time.
There was so much to admire about their performance.
Half-backs Richie Rees and Jason Tovey continued to impress, inexperienced centres Jack Dixon and Ross Wardle stood toe-to-toe with a Wales midfield, captain Andrew Coombs led by example, 20-year-old lock Matthew Screech continued to make a mockery of the Blues’ decision to release him and Toby Faletau was, well, Toby Faletau.
After spluttering against Ulster and Edinburgh, the region produced their most slick attacking performance of the season combined with the resilience and tenacity.
Their reward? Four of the most marvellous league points in quite some time.
It was a sensational game packed with incident and reminiscent of recent Rodney Parade tussles with the Ospreys.
The attendance of 6,777 was slightly disappointing but those that did turn up will be back and those that watched on television might just head down in the future.
The Dragons suffered a whitewash against their three regional rivals in 2012/13, suffering six league defeats and managing to bag a solitary losing bonus point.
From the very off they played with a determination to better that tally with one night’s efforts.
Wing Tom Prydie struck first with a booming penalty and was then close to adding to his personal tally, the television match official ruling that Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland had bundled him into touch just shy of the line.
But the hosts soon crossed the whitewash with a score to delight the front row union.
Argentina international tighthead Francisco Chaparro, on his first start for the region, conjured a marvellous offload for Phil Price, on his 50th start, to barge over down the left.
Fly-half Tovey added the extras but the Scarlets responded well with Priestland’s right boot to reduce the deficit to seven points.
However, the ferocious start continued when, just seconds after a stupendous tackle on Toby Faletau by fellow Lions star Jonathan Davies, full-back Dan Evans was put over against his former region by scrum-half Richie Rees.
Tovey again added expertly added the extras for a 17-3 lead and the game continued in a breathless fashion, Priestland chipping away with a second penalty to punish a loose clearance kick.
It was error-strewn but magnificent stuff with a fine cover tackle by Scarlets captain Rob McCusker preventing Dragons wing Hallam Amos from crossing before Rees responded to deny Davies.
The visitors had created openings without taking them but that changed on 33 minutes when, with the home defence stretched to breaking point, Wales centre Scott Williams jinked over.
Priestland converted and the score remained 17-13 as the sides headed for the changing rooms for a well-earned rest.
The Scarlets kept the momentum early in the second half when the Wales fly-half punished Chaparro after the Puma picked up a loose ball in from an offside position for the second time.
At 17-16 the Dragons needed to strike after being scoreless since the first quarter but it was the visitors who kept bossing matters, McCusker and Priestland butchering chances in the home 22 after a break by the super Liam Williams.
And the hosts made the most of the let-offs with Tovey knocking over a penalty for three points that seemed to settle their nerves as the game entered the final quarter.
The tension was incredible in a raucous atmosphere and it was the home fans that were voicing their approval when Prydie nailed a superb touchline penalty to earn a seven-point buffer with 10 minutes left.
Finger nails were being chewed, especially when the Scarlets kicked to the corner with two minutes left and then earned a five-metre scrum.
That was followed by tense re-set upon re-set with referee Nigel Owens, who was excellent, determined to get such a key set piece right with time gone.
And it was bedlam when the ball slipped out the back and Faletau hacked the ball dead to make it another magical, magical night on Rodney Parade for the Dragons.
Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie, R Wardle (A Hughes 72), J Dixon, H Amos, J Tovey (K Burton 75), R Rees (J Evans 60), P Price (O Evans 55), R Thomas (H Gustafson 7), F Chaparro (D Way 55), A Coombs (captain), M Screech (R Sidoli 68), J Groves (N Talei 61), L Evans, T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – P Price, D Evans; conversions – J Tovey (2); penalties – T Prydie (2), J Tovey
Scarlets: G Owen (N Reynolds 20), L Williams, J Davies, S Williams, J Williams, R Priestland, G Davies (A Davies 68), P John (R Evans 61), K Owens (E Phillips 61), S Lee (J Adriaanse 61), J Ball, G Earle (R Kelly 68), A Shingler (J Turnbull 60), J Barclay, R McCusker (captain).
Scorers: try – S Williams; conversion – R Priestland; penalties – R Priestland (3)
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Argus star man: Richie Rees