Familiar tale as Dragons are overpowered by Bath
THEY went to Bath looking to make history, instead it just repeated on Newport Gwent Dragons.
It was a case of different competition for the Rodney Parade region but the same old story.
They suffered a third successive away defeat and were once again left to reflect of a performance of endeavour that was hindered by a faltering set piece.
For Munster in the RaboDirect Pro12 read Bath in the Amlin Challenge Cup; their hosts weren’t spectacular but emerged as deserving and pretty comprehensive victors.
The Dragons’ wait for a win on English soil in European competition will go on for another year – maybe more depending on boardroom wrangling – after the West Country outfit became the 11th Aviva Premiership team to turn them over on the spin.
It leaves their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup hanging by a thread.
Bath’s pair of wins against Mogliano will put them on 18 points by the time they head to Rodney Parade so the Dragons need to do a December double over Bordeaux Begles, with one bonus point, to stand a chance.
The glass-half-full brigade could point out that the region are in better shape than last year, that at least they didn’t allow Bath to get a bonus point like Wasps.
They could also point to another marvellous, snappy display by scrum-half Richie Rees – who should be named in Wales’ squad for the autumn internationals on Tuesday if it’s judged on performances alone – and resilient showings by Lions star Toby Faletau and Lewis Evans in the back row.
But it was a deflating afternoon over the border; a sobering couple of hours after the excitement of a promising start to the Pro12.
Perhaps it was just easy to get swept along with the hope that they could do it; that it really was #ourtime as the Dragons say on Twitter.
The truth is that the region can get away with their tight five shortcomings at Rodney Parade where they can dig in and paper over the cracks.
Life is not so forgiving on the road.
“There are two answers – one is to buy and the other is to work harder and more accurately,” said director of rugby Lyn Jones afterwards. “That’s what we’ve got to back ourselves to do.”
The galling thing is that this was a great chance for victory against a team of fringe Bath players, albeit one that was still full of plenty of quality backed up by a strong bench.
The Dragons were in with a shout when they turned round for the second half at 10-10.
They had started slowly against Bath’s power runners and it was no surprise when wing Richard Lane was put over in the right corner with Scotland fly-half Tom Heathcote adding the extras.
The visitors were creaking but were right back in it when turnover ball just outside the 22 eventually led to lock Matthew Screech drawing Heathcote and giving Lions star Toby Faletau a 45-metre run-in.
Tovey converted and then traded penalties with his opposite number to make it level-pegging at the break.
The Dragons had finished the first half strongly, dominating possession and kicking smartly to put pressure on Bath in their own half.
It was a different story after they got back under way (with restarts being a constant source of frustration, the Dragons seemingly picking out giant centre Matt Banahan and gifting the ball back).
Bath put the squeeze on up front and the visitors played in the wrong areas, making errors that put the heat on a front five that were under the pump.
It was as though there was a gigantic slope that was making them slide down the slippery surface towards the clubhouse.
The game gradually got away – 13-10, 16-10, 19-10 (with Lewis Evans yellow-carded for not rolling away) thanks to Heathcote’s right peg – before the killer blow.
The Dragons had defended the driving lineout pretty well but things went pear-shaped in the final quarter with ex-Scarlets flanker Mat Gilbert the beneficiary from a powerful shove.
And that was that, leaving Lyn Jones’ men to lick their wounds ahead of a return to Pro12 action.
Next up? Friday’s trip to the Ospreys to face Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, James King, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric and others.
Bath: N Abendanon (captain, J Joseph 72), R Lane, M Banahan, G Henson, T Biggs, T Heathcote, M Roberts (P Stringer 40), A Perenise (P James 53), R Batty (E Guinazu 64-69, 76), D Wilson (J Orlandi 40), W Spencer, R Caldwell (S Hooper 56), W Skuse, A Fa’osiliva, C Fearns (M Gilbert 69).
Scorers: tries – R Lane, M Gilbert; conversions – T Heathcote (2); penalties – T Heathcote (4)
Dragons: D Evans (L Robling 65), W Harries, A Hughes, R Wardle, H Amos, J Tovey (K Burton 65), R Rees, O Evans (P Price 55), H Gustafson (E Dee 55), D Way (F Chaparro 47), M Screech, R Sidoli (captain, A Coombs 47), N Talei (J Groves 57), L Evans, T Faletau.
Scorers: try – T Faletau; conversion – J Tovey; penalty – J Tovey Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Argus star man: Richie Rees
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