Zebre 25 Dragons 25
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons escaped with a share of the spoils against RaboDirect Pro12 bottom club Zebre thanks to a magnificent solo try by supersub Jevon Groves.
The flanker spotted a gap at a ruck with three minutes left and dashed over from 25 metres thanks to a combination of gas and a neat dummy.
That left Jason Tovey with a tricky conversion from the right and the fly-half nailed it to deny their hosts at the Stadio XXV Aprile.
The Dragons had headed into the game looking to strike back after heavy defeats to Ulster and Connacht.
And while they didn’t get a win to keep alive their hopes of a top-half finish, Lyn Jones’ men at least showed character to salvage a draw against their spirited hosts.
The Dragons enjoyed a slender 15-13 lead at the break courtesy of tries by full-back Dan Evans and centre Ashley Smith but Italy fly-half Luciano Orquera punished them with the boot in the second half.
He looked set to be the match-winner thanks to his 17-point haul only for the Dragons to strike at the death to avoid coming a cropper in Parma like Cardiff Blues.
The hosts were first to strike when they took advantage of a yellow card for number eight Taulupe Faletau for stopping a driving lineout by coming in at the side after 16 minutes.
Zebre piled the pressure on and back row forward Samuela Vunisa powered over from scrum-half Brendon Leonard’s flat pass.
Luciano Orquera converted but back came the 14-man Dragons and full-back Dan Evans crossed down the right from fly-half Jason Tovey’s pass after outside centre Pat Leach had burst into the 22.
A long-range penalty by Italy centre Gonzalo Garcia extended the Zebre’s lead to 10-5 only for the visitors to strike back down the same flank in the 35th minute.
The Dragons piled the pressure on down in the 22 and captain Andrew Coombs’ smart offload after being dragged down just short enabled wing Tom Prydie to put centre Ashley Smith over.
Tovey converted and then traded penalties with Orquera for a two-point lead at the break.
It continued to be nip and tuck in the second half with the lead changing hands thanks to the boots of the fly-halves.
Orquera made it 16-15 after 47 minutes only for Tovey to respond on 54 but a quickfire pair of Zebre penalties meant that the Dragons were chasing the game in the final quarter.
And when the 32-year-old number 10 bisected the posts to make it 25-18 with seven minutes left, the Dragons knew that a fourth successive win against the Italians was unlikely.
Instead they were chasing a share of the spoils and it was Groves that got them that just minutes after replacing flanker Lewis Evans.
Zebre: G Palazzani, L Sarto, T Iannone, G Garcia (K Ratuvou 56, D Odiete 79), D Berryman (G Venditti 56), L Orquera, B Leonard, S Perugini (M Aguero 40), D Giazzon (T D’Apice 62), D Ryan (D Chistolini 40), Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (captain, M Van Vuuren 40), F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.
Scorers: try – S Vunisa; conversion – L Orquera; penalties – G Garcia, L Orquera (5) Dragons: D Evans, T Prydie (H Amos 78), P Leach, A Smith (J Dixon 36), W Harries, J Tovey, R Rees (W Evans 70), P Price (B Douglas 63), E Dee (S Parry 72), D Bell (N Buck 51-79), A Coombs (captain), M Screech (C Hill 63), L Evans (J Groves 73), N Cudd, T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – D Evans, A Smith, J Groves; conversions – J Tovey (2); penalties – J Tovey (2)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
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