NEWPORT Gwent Dragons showed spirit in their 21-16 defeat to the Scarlets at Judgement Day. Here are five things from the Guinness PRO12 clash at Principality Stadium…
1: Great Griffiths (again)
Increasingly this season it’s been ‘Four things plus Ollie Griffiths is great’.
The flanker was sensational again, forming an excellent partnership with Nic Cudd and Lewis Evans in the back row.
Griffiths carried hard, tackled with gusto and won some crucial turnovers to show why he will be on the Wales summer tour.
There are some marvellous flankers around –Ellis Jenkins showed that in the first game – but the 22-year-old from Newbridge has the potential to not only be a Test player but a very good one.
2: Good planning
There were some grumbles about the spectacle in the first half but the Dragons wouldn’t have given a monkeys as they headed to their changing room with a 6-3 lead.
They kept things tight, kicked plenty and worked their socks off… and why not?
Some in the stadium will have headed to the bar, or even out of the ground to a pub, but a try-fest with kamikaze running to entertain the Judgement Day one-off punters would have done little for the Dragons against a side featuring three Lions hopefuls in Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams plus the electric Steff Evans and Johnny McNicholl.
The management’s plan plus the execution ended up earning the consolation of a losing bonus point when most predicted a drubbing.
3: Hughes to the fore
It could be termed as a mixed evening for Adam Hughes, for his yellow card proved to be a key point approaching the hour, but the winger had a strong game.
Hughes defended well against the dangerous Steff Evans and produced a wonderful covering tackle to deny his old teammate Jonathan Evans as he was galloping clear with the scores level at 6-6.
Sadly he was then sin-binned for killing the ball in the 22 – perhaps harshly, but such offences are what yellow cards were introduced for – and the Scarlets took command by crossing down his flank through Jonathan Davies.
However, Hughes helped earn a consolation bonus point at the death… and the routine finish for his try wasn’t the most impressive part.
With a couple of minutes left DTH van der Merwe burst through and was eyeing a third try that would have given the scoreboard an unfair look.
Instead last man Hughes snared the Canadian wing with a super tackle in the 22, the Dragons escaped and then got their bonus.
Hughes is having a strong end to the campaign after the concussion frustration of the first half of the season and the popular back played a big role in earning a point.
4: Chances taken
Opportunity knocked after the Dragons’ poor showing in Zebre with head coach Kingsley Jones making five changes to the XV and the players produced a strong performance.
Griffiths and Cudd stood out but some other players’ strong displays went under the radar.
Angus O’Brien had a bright display at fly-half while his fellow Caerleon native Tyler Morgan is starting to hit his straps alongside the consistent Sam Beard in midfield.
Matthew Screech worked tirelessly to justify his inclusion ahead of Rynard Landman but scrum-half Charlie Davies deserves special mention for his second 80-minute outing on the spin.
Injuries to Sarel Pretorius and Tavis Knoyle have left him as the sole specialist senior number 9 on the books and he has responded – in Cardiff he was canny, combative and energetic.
Those that took to the field will expect to be rewarded when the side is named for the game at Myreside a week on Friday.
5: Perilous plight
Hughes’ try at the death, a cracker, earned a losing bonus point and it’s just as well because the PRO12 table makes worrying reading.
Treviso’s win against Edinburgh leads to both hope and fear – the Scots are just two points ahead of the Dragons in ninth but Treviso are two back and Zebre three behind.
That makes the Dragons’ trip to the Scottish capital next round absolutely huge. If they triumph then ninth place could well be theirs but defeat would leave them needing to beat Cardiff Blues on final day to ensure they don’t prop up the table.
After a week off while the European semi-finals are played, Jones’ side need a big fortnight before their summer break.