Newport Gwent Dragons 22 Cardiff Blues 16
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons moved into the top half of the RaboDirect PRO12 after an excellent team performance saw them deservedly beat their biggest rivals the Cardiff Blues, writes Iwan Gabe Davies.
A pulsating Boxing Day derby in front of a packed and passionate Rodney Parade saw them claim sixth spot in the league and go into the return fixture away on New Year’s Day full of confidence.
They also took full advantage of the Ospreys’ earlier 10-6 away victory over the Scarlets to become the second placed Welsh region moving ahead of the Parc y Scarlets side and the Blues.
The Dragons got off to a great start when their fly-half Jason Tovey slotted over a second minute penalty after the visitors were guilty of being miles off side as the home side went through the phases.
An entertaining opening saw the hosts definitely shade things, playing some sparkling rugby and wing Will Harries looked dangerous when given the opportunity.
Blues outside-half Rhys Patchell should have been sin binned in the 13th minute for clearly taking out his opposite number Tovey, but all the Dragons got from referee Ian Davies was a penalty.
And the Dragons deservedly stretched their lead after a quarter of an hour when number eight
Toby Faletau scored a sparkling try after a smartly-taken short line from an attacking position just outside the 22.
Hooker T Rhys Thomas threw to tighthead prop Nathan Buck whose cute pass outside found the British and Lions and Wales star who romped home, Tovey nailing a tricky conversion to give his side a 10-0 lead.
The Dragons continued to have the upper hand and wing Hallam Amos probably shouldn’t have kicked when he did well to gather a tough pass to steam through the Blues defence.
Had the Wales international passed to supporting runners, they could have exploited their numerical advantage to go even further ahead and deliver a potential knock-out blow.
But it was the Blues who scored next after they fashioned a try from practically nothing after a break by the visitors’ full-back Leigh Halfpenny, hooker Kristian Dacey crossing after some weak defence. Halfpenny’s conversion made it 10-7.
The home side tore through the Blues defence again after half an hour, their excellent full-back Dan Evans causing problems and only a try-saving tackle by Patchell on Amos prevented another try.
At the end of the half, Dragons back Ashley Smith saved the day when a chip and chase by Lions wing Alex Cuthbert caused the home team’s alarm bells to ring, the centre diving on the ball deep in his half as the hosts snuffed out the attack.
A Halfpenny penalty on the stroke of half-time drew the sides level at 10-10 in a breathless first 40 that saw Lyn Jones’ men the better team but guilty of being turned over at crucial stages.
In the 42nd minute Smith looked to have crossed for a cracker of a try to send the home crowds delirious but it was disallowed when official Davies went to TV match official Derek Bevan, Dragons blindside Netani Talei taking out Patchell at the ensuing ruck.
And after being 10-0 down, the Blues took the lead for the first time in the 45th minute when Halfpenny was on target with a penalty in the 45th minute.
The Dragons drew the scores level with a Tovey penalty five minutes later before centre Pat Leach ripped through from the restart as the hosts gained excellent territory as the Blues gave away another penalty.
Tovey was on target again as his side regained the lead, 16-13.
With their superb fans roaring them on, the Dragons were well in the driving seat and the visitors’ problems were compounded when their highly regarded number eight Robin Copeland was yellow carded with 25 minutes to go.
There was a big blow for the Rodney Parade side as the third quarter drew to an end when Amos was forced to leave the field with a leg injury after a heavy tackle.
A well struck penalty by Tovey, who outplayed possible Wales rival Patchell, put his side six points up, the No 10 controlling matters well as the Dragons looked to tighten their grip on the game.
Copeland seemed to return to the field too early, certainly a couple of minutes before his ten minutes were up.
But the home supporters didn’t care after the sublime Tovey drilled his fifth penalty, another difficult attempt, to take the Dragons 22-13 ahead.
A last ditch tap tackle on Cuthbert by the wonderful Leach saved what could have been a second Blues try but a long range Halfpenny brought them back within a converted try about ten minutes to go.
The Dragons were made to sweat in the closing stages but they held on to secure a memorable victory.
Dragons: Daniel Evans; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Ashley Smith, Hallam Amos (Ross Wardle 59); Jason Tovey, Wayne Evans (Richie Rees 60); Owen Evans (Aaron Coundley 66), T Rhys Thomas (Sam Parry 66), Nathan Buck (Francisco Chaparro 66), Andrew Coombs (capt), Cory Hill (Rob Sidoli 71), Netani Talei (Nic Cudd 62), Lewis Evans, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Steffan Jones.
Scorers: Tries – Toby Faletau (15), Conversions – Jason Tovey (15), Penalties – Jason Tovey (2) (50), (51) (62) (65)
Blues: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt, Dan Fish; Rhys Patchell (Gareth Davies 65), Lloyd Williams; Sam Hobbs (capt), Kristian Dacey (Rhys Williams 50), Benoit Bourrust (Scott Andrews 59), Chris Dicomidis, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Robin Copeland.
Replacements: Thomas Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Rory Watts-Jones, Lewis Jones, Richard Smith.
Scorers: Tries – Kristian Dacey (25), Conversions – Leigh Halfpenny (25), Penalties – Leigh Halfpenny (40) (45) (69).
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)
Attendance: 8, 526
Argus star men: Jason Tovey and Pat Leach