8:50pm Thursday 3rd April 2014
By Chris Kirwan
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons failed to halt their slide in the RaboDirect Pro12 after slipping to an infuriating 23-19 defeat to Edinburgh at Rodney Parade.
A late charge was unable to prevent the Scottish side emerging with a first league victory of the season that sees them leapfrog their hosts in the table.
Not only did the Dragons fail to climb to seventh but they are now looking nervously over their shoulder at Cardiff Blues, who are just three points back in the battle to avoid being Wales’ worst.
It’s just one win in seven Pro12 games since the turn of the year and one fears that the Rodney Parade region are in freefall and in danger of repeating last season’s disaster when just hapless Zebre were beneath them.
The performance was slightly better than the meek submission to Connacht a fortnight earlier.
The set piece stood up well, the back row was to the fore and the midfield Jack Dixon-Pat Leach partnership was strong.
There was a lot more fight in the Dragons’ display... and yet it counted for nothing.
Hindered by some rank decision-making and a shocking kicking game, they were kept at arm’s length by the Scots until showing some urgency at the death.
It left you to ponder how the Dragons can do the double over Scotland’s top team Glasgow and yet suffer Murrayfield and Rodney Parade losses to Edinburgh.
The Dragons had the better of what was a pretty mediocre first half yet headed to the changing rooms trailing 10-9.
They made an excellent start and wing Hallam Amos, on his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Leinster in February, was close to crossing with a super break down the left only for the greasy ball to escape from his grasp as the Edinburgh cover closed in.
The hosts continued to press but came up against a well-drilled defence and had to be content with a Jason Tovey penalty for a 3-0 lead after a quarter.
The Dragons continued to have the better of things but were unable to stretch away from the Scots, mostly through their own infuriating errors.
Tovey knocked over another three-pointer to double the lead thanks to a penalty won at the scrum but after being on top for half an hour the Dragons shot themselves in the foot towards the end of the half.
First prop Phil Price, who was doing so well at the set piece, daftly gifted visiting full-back Jack Cuthbert a penalty by handling in a ruck despite being told not to by referee Leo Colgan, the loosehead trudging off gesticulating to furious teammate Richie Rees that he could hear the warnings.
And 6-3 to the Dragons promptly became 10-6 to Edinburgh when tighthead Willem Nel barged over for a converted try after a break by centre Andries Strauss.
Tovey did manage to reduce the deficit with the last kick of the half but they would have been scratching their heads as to how they would be playing catch-up from the restart.
It was more of the same after the break; the Dragons continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession but lacked the calmness required to translate that into points.
Nonethess, the scrum was going well and a penalty allowed Tovey to make it 12-10 and also earned Nel a warning.
But it was the other tighthead that then took centre stage when the Scottish side crossed for a bizarre second try.
Centre Matt Scott cut back in midfield and, much to his surprise, was able to exploit a gaping hole that had been created by Mr Colgan accidentally tripping Duncan Bell. Lock Matthew Screech’s desperate tackle failed and suddenly it was 17-12.
That score took the wind out of the Dragons’ sails; shoulders seemed to slump and a Cuthbert penalty meant that with 66 minutes gone they were not even in bonus point territory.
Another by the full-back made it 23-12 but that stung the hosts into action.
First, after Edinburgh lock Izak van der Westhuizen was sin-binned for dragging down a driving lineout, replacement centre Ross Wardle cut a lovely line to barge over.
Tovey converted and then the Dragons pressed for a winner.
First a surging run by lock Cory Hill panicked the visiting defence and then they forced scrambling Scott into carrying the ball over his own line following a grubber kick through.
Alas, despite winning penalties from the five-metre scrums they were unable to steal the spoils at the death, Mr Colgan deciding that the set piece had gone through 90 degrees with time over rather than heading under the sticks for a penalty try.
Dragons: D Evans (W Harries 65), T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon (R Wardle 70), H Amos, J Tovey, R Rees (W Evans 66), P Price (O Evans 73), E Dee (S Parry 66), D Bell (B Douglas 66), A Coombs (captain), M Screech (C Hill 63), J Groves (N Talei 69), L Evans, T Faletau.
Scorers: try – R Wardle; conversion – J Tovey; penalties – J Tovey (4)
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert, S Hidalgo-Clyne, M Scott, A Strauss (C Bezuidenhout 65), T Brown, H Leonard, G Hart, A Dickinson, R Ford (J Hilterbrand 20), W Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, M Coman (captain), C du Preez, D Denton.
Scorers: tries – W Nel, M Scott; conversions – J Cuthbert (2); penalties – J Cuthbert (2)
Yellow cards: I van der Westhuizen
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Argus star man: Elliot Dee
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