Dragons 16 Northampton 34
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons’ hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the LV= Cup were ended when they were overpowered by Northampton at a sodden Rodney Parade.
The Saints scored five tries as they ran out 34-16 winners thanks to their impressive scrum and driving lineout.
The Dragons had enjoyed a 16-15 lead at the break before, just like in the game against Bath earlier this month, their English opponents turned the screw up front.
Torrential rain meant it was never going to be a classic and an incredible hail storm towards the end of the first half saw the players running for shelter in the changing rooms after referee Andrew Small called for a stoppage.
Conditions were grim – and the groundstaff have their work cut out if Newport County’s clash with Plymouth is to survive on Tuesday – and that played into the hands of Northampton’s meaty pack.
Just as in last season’s LV= Cup encounter, they piled the pressure on through their scrum and driving lineout.
The Dragons led 6-3 after a quarter before they contrived to shoot themselves in the foot.
They were struggling at the set piece and they put themselves under pressure when scrum-half Luc Jones’ kick was charged down with the Wales Under-20s scrum-half fortunate to win the race to the loose ball over the tryline.
Then the ball came loose from the resulting five-metre scrum and number eight Netani Talei flung an awful pass that saw Ashley Smith driven over his own line.
The result from Saints’ attacking scrum was predictable – referee Andrew Small went under the sticks after the visitors earned a penalty try.
Tovey narrowed the gap to 10-9 with a third penalty before Northampton scored a farcical second score.
Former Ospreys scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i made a break and flung an awful offload only for Dragons wing Ross Wardle to slide over the loose ball to give opposite number Fa’atoina Autagavaia a run-in.
Yet somehow the Dragons were in front at half-time after responding well to their unexpected, weather-enforced break.
With Saints flanker Teimana Harrison in the sin bin they piled the pressure on with an impressive driving lineout of their own – their attack with that method is better than their defence of it.
It was stopped short of the line but scrum-half Luc Jones was able to dart over with the try awarded by the TMO.
Tovey’s conversion made it 16-15 but Northampton took command with their power game swiftly after the restart.
Hooker Mike Haywood was the beneficiary of a super driving lineout and then a scrum won against the head eventually led to tighthead Gareth Denman galloping over like his equine namesake.
At 27-16 it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Dragons and so it proved, despite the introductions of scrum-half Richie Rees and hooker Rhys Thomas adding some bite and shape to their attack.
And Aviva Premiership title hopefuls stretched their lead with their fifth try on 69 minutes, once again using their maul to devastating effect for a score by number eight Gerrit-Jan Van Velze.
Northampton scorers: tries - penalty, Autagavaia, Haywood, Denman, Van Velze; conversions - G Dickson (3); penalty - G Dickson
Dragons scorers: try - L Jones; conversion - J Tovey; penalties - J Tovey (3)
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