NEWPORT Gwent Dragons’ Amlin Challenge Cup hopes are well and truly alive after an excellent bonus point victory saw them hammer Bordeaux-Bègles at Rodney Parade.
They will head to the South of France in high spirits for the return fixture on Thursday confident and capable of claiming a rare win on the continent.
Their triumph was a case of Welsh guile and some sparkling rugby overcoming the modern French obsession with brute strength, the home side also ruthless in scoring from more or less every chance they created.
In the build up to the game, Dragons forwards coach Kingsley Jones had made no secret of the home side’s desire to attack their opponents out wide – he and his fellow coaches spotted serious weaknesses in the Top 14 side’s defence – and move their jumbo pack around.
It was an astute observation because they were very vulnerable and the hosts got off to a flying start as they led 12-0 before there were ten minutes on the clock, scoring two fine tries.
The first saw slick hands by the backs make space for centre Pat Leach to cross in the corner with outside-half nailing the difficult touchline conversion.
And they scored their second when their adventure from deep saw wing Matthew Pewtner roar home for a peach, Tovey this time unable to add the extras.
Any thoughts this could turn into a rout were dispelled with the visitors battling hard to get back into things and they went close to crossing the hosts’ try-line.
In the end they had to settle for a penalty from their scrum-half Manu Saubusse who reduced the arrears to nine points.
But the clinical Dragons stretched their lead in the 29th minute when wing Hallam Amos was put into space all too easily after the home side tidied up some scrappy lineout.
His try was converted by Tovey and his side were back in control at 19-3 with half an hour gone.
The Gwent region were cutting through Bordeaux-Bègles’ defence and the home side’s pack were competing manfully with the huge visiting forwards.
But the French outfit put their dreaded driving lineout into action after they’d pushed the home side off the ball five metres out.
Loosehead prop Jefferson (not Hercule) Poirot powered his way over for a try which was converted by Saubusse.
There was still time for the Dragons to hit back when a well-struck Tovey penalty go into the interval with a deserved 22-10 lead.
The French started to get the upper hand in the second half against the hosts’ scrum which retreated at a rate of knots at least once.
But it was Tovey who drew first blood in the second quarter with his second penalty and his side nearly got their bonus point when they narrowly failed to score their fourth try after Leach hacked the ball on, skipper Andrew Coombs going close in the corner.
They were however under serious stress in the scrum and the visitors were awarded a penalty try in the 56th minute which was converted to bring them back into it at 25-17.
Any lingering fears were removed immediately when crowd favourite Toby Faletau stormed home for the bonus point fourth try, the Wales and British and Irish Lions number eight finishing in style and Tovey’s conversion taking them two scores ahead again.
Centre Ashley Smith completed the rout with the Dragons’ fifth try to take them to 40 points but it as the French who had the last word with a late converted consolation try.
Newport Gwent Dragons: D Evans (R Wardle 64), M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith, H Amos, J Tovey (K Burton 67), W Evans (R Rees 76), H Gustafson (O Evans 51), S Parry (E Dee 65), D Way (N Buck 51), A Coombs (capt), M Screech (R Sidoli 59), L Evans (I Jones 66), N Cudd, T Faletau.
Dragons scorers: Tries – Pat Leach (6), Matthew Pewtner (8), Hallam Amos (29), Toby Faletau (57), Ashley Smith (70), Conversions – Jason Tovey (6) (29) (57), Penalties – Tovey (40), (45) (65).
Bordeaux-Bègles: J Tuculet, R Lilomaiava, C Brousse (J-P Lamotte), T Lacroix, R Carballo (G Queheille 72), R Lonca, M Saubusse (B Serin 59), J Poirot (L DelBoubles 51), B Auzqui (J-C Fidinde 51), B Sa (P Toetu 51), C Treloar, A Fakate, G Gibouin (capt), M Graham, P Luafutu (J-B Lespinasse 70). Replacements: A Jaulhac,
Bordeaux-Bègles scorers: Tries – Jefferson Poirot (36), Penalty try (56), Jean-Baptiste Lamotte (75), Conversions – Manu Saubusse (36), (56), Romaine Lonca (75), Penalties – Manu Saubusse (21)
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Argus star man: Toby Faletau