5:02pm Sunday 11th May 2014
A POWERPOINT presentation couldn't have demonstrated the reasoning behind Lyn Jones' recruitment drive any better than Newport Gwent Dragons last outing of 2013/14.
A 20-19 victory against Treviso meant that the Dragons leapfrogged Connacht into ninth in the final RaboDirect Pro12 standings, not a league placing to prompt a pitch invasion by delirious fans but certainly nicer than the previous season's 11th.
However, the Rodney Parade region were close to finishing with just Zebre beneath them for a second successive season – the game should never have been close yet it took a late penalty by Jason Tovey to sneak the spoils.
Things should have been done and dusted going into the final stages, enabling Robert Sidoli, Sam Parry and Lewis Robling to get on for Rodney Parade farewells rather than being unused replacements.
The Dragons were dominant in the early stages of the second half and, with the strong wind at their backs, should have killed the game after wing Will Harries' try put them 17-11 up.
Treviso, pinned inside their own 22, were knackered with their players frequently hitting the deck to slow the game down while the magic sponge was put to use.
The Italians were on the ropes with one more punch needed to put them on the canvas but the Dragons, on a seven-game winless streak, hit nothing but fresh air with their hooks.
There were a handful of missed opportunities, the most glaring of which was a jaw-dropping butchered overlap inside the Treviso 22; fly-half Tovey will be glad that the Dragons are on holiday rather than dissecting the performance at a Monday morning DVD session.
The Italians were given a reprieve and came back to lead with just minutes left. It was incredibly close to that Dragons speciality – a sob story after a narrow defeat.
It was a display that showed the promise in the Dragons ranks – teenage centre Tyler Morgan was sensational – but also their vulnerability at the set piece and the absence of a winning mentality.
So frequently has director of rugby Jones has talked about his intention to change the culture by bringing in the likes of Lee Byrne, Boris Stankovich and Ligtoring Landman that it seems he is reading off a script.
"We have a rich vein of Wales Under-20s players coming through and have experienced players joining," he said after Saturday's win.
"With that blend and when the side gets to understand each other we will start to win those games that we have lost by a point.
"This business is about player recruitment and player development. Get it wrong and you are in for a tough season."
The Dragons can head for the beach with a spring in their step after securing the win while the supporters will be buoyed by a stunning performance by Morgan, who was only playing because fellow talented teen Jack Dixon was ill.
Had Morgan been on the bench as planned rather than in the 13 jersey then there is every chance that the Dragons would have suffered another demoralising defeat.
The hosts trailed 11-10 at the break but would have been quietly content with that scoreline after playing into the stiff breeze.
Treviso understandably headed to Newport with the same blueprint that saw Connacht triumph 24-8 at Rodney Parade, adopting a route one approach and trying to smash the Dragons at the set piece.
Despite going behind to an early Tovey penalty the Italians had the better of things but only managed one try when scrum-half Fabio Semenzato exploited some weak ruck defence to scamper down the blindside from five metres.
Fly-half Alberto Di Bernardo added a pair of penalties either side of a superb score by Morgan, who reached back to gather Lewis Evans' off-target pass superbly with his left hand before scorching past last man Angelo Esposito.
The teenager then set up Harries early in the second half, showing lovely footwork to burst down the left before chipping over covering flanker/centre Christian Loamanu for the winger to dot down (although Morgan himself could have scored it).
Tovey's well-judged conversion made it 17-11 but that was followed by the Dragons' wasteful spell.
They had an escape when Di Bernardo, who struggled with the wind, was wide with the tricky conversion following Cardiff Blues-bound number eight Manoa Vosawai's try from a driving lineout.
However, the Italian number 10 made no mistake from slap bang in front of the sticks with 10 minutes left, with Argus Dragon of the Year Evans yellow-carded for the breakdown offence.
But the hosts dug deep and regained the lead courtesy of their much-maligned scrum, which earned a penalty for Tovey to sneak the win.
The intention is that the summer recruits will ensure similar encounters aren't quite so nervy in 2014/15.
Dragons: H Amos, T Prydie, T Morgan, P Leach, W Harries, J Tovey, R Rees, P Price (O Evans 76), R Thomas, D Bell, A Coombs (captain), M Screech, L Evans (J Groves 79), N Cudd (J Groves 58-73), T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – T Morgan, W Harries; conversions – J Tovey (2); penalties – J Tovey (2)
Treviso: L McLean, L Nitoglia, M Campagnaro, A Sgarbi, A Esposito, A Di Bernardo (M Berquist 79), F Semenzato, A De Marchi, L Ghiraldini (G Maistri 73), L Cittadini (I Fernandez-Rouyet 61), A Pavanello (captain, V Bernarbo 43), M Fuser, C Loamanu (J Ambrosini 78), P Derbyshire (D Budd 68), M Vosawai (A Pretichetti 77).
Scorers: tries – F Semenzato, M Vosawai; penalties – A Di Bernardo (3)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Attendance: 6, 026
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