AN inexperienced Dragons side went down to a 71-21 defeat to Northampton after running out of steam at Franklin’s Gardens.

Just 20 hours after going up against French heavyweights Montpellier, Bernard Jackman’s squad tussled with English big guns and suffered a similar if expected result.

The Saints crossed for 11 tries in total after exploiting weary Dragons legs in the second half, stretching from 26-21 ahead with half an hour left to a 50-point winning margin.

Pre-season is never about the result – and a defeat was expected – and head coach Bernard Jackman will have still seen glimpses of encouragement from his slightly flung together team.

Everyone will prosper from Exeter being the only opposition in the diary next weekend.

Jackman, on a watching brief with the rest of his management while academy manager James Chapron called the shots, acknowledged in midweek that the Dragons were over-stretching themselves with a weekend double-header against a pair of Champions Cup teams in Montpellier and the Saints.

The schedule necessitated spreading his squad out with former Springboks full-back Zane Kirchner, a summer recruit from Leinster, among the seniors to face the Saints along with captain and tighthead Brok Harris, centre Adam Warren, fly-half Dorian Jones and lock Rynard Landman.

Other first-teamers were keen to force their way into the reckoning for the Guinness PRO14 opener against Leinster – loosehead Luke Garrett, hookers Liam Belcher and Gerard Ellis, number eight Robson Blake – but the squad was also bolstered by a handful of academy talent and players from the Principality Premiership.

As such, the Dragons were in danger of a chastening afternoon against a strong English Premiership side that was able to name two separate XVs for each half, even without the likes of George North, Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Rob Horne and Stephen Myler.

Yet it was the visitors who made the bright start in perfect conditions on a glorious pitch, earning a 7-0 lead with a well-crafter score after two minutes.

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Dorian Jones forced former England full-back Ben Foden into an error with a super kick and, after charges by centre Connor Edwards and lock Rynard Landman from the resulting lineout, the fly-half chipped over the top.

Centre Adam Warren displayed safe hands in cricketing weather to gather superbly and score, Jones adding the extras.

The Dragons were showing plenty of attacking intent and enterprise but their inexperience – and lack of training time together – was evident in defence.

Northampton found holes far too easily and crossed for four tries to lead 26-7 after a quarter.

Centre Tom Stephenson and wing Tom Collins went over with jinking efforts, both converted by fly-half James Grayson, and hooker Mikey Haywood and flanker Jamie Gibson went over from close range at the end of attacks from deep.

Dorian Jones had made an inventive start with some probing kicks and got the score his efforts deserved to settle the nerves just when it looked the scoreboard could get messy.

The fly-half went for a grubber from inside his half after spotting space behind but was just beaten to the ball by Juan Pablo Estelles.

However, the Argentine wing was unable to gather and Jones hacked on, beat Foden in a foot race to cross and then converted for 26-14.

There was no further scoring in the first half as the Dragons dug deep, but there was always the fear about what could happen when lungs were burning in the second half against an entirely new Saints XV.

Yet it was the visitors who struck first after the resumption when a loose ball in midfield was snaffled by wing and Wales 7s international Jared Rosser, who raced under the posts from almost 80 metres to make Jones’ conversion for 26-21 a simple one.

To the Dragons’ credit, they had problem-solved on the go in defence and were fare more of a challenge for the Saints (this was the case until running on empty).

However, the set piece was still under the pump and hooker Charlie Clare and back row Mitch Eadie went over from close range, the former after a scrum against the head and the latter after a lineout in the 22.

The Dragons were flagging and it was all Saints with back row David Ribbans and centre Nafi Tuitavake helping themselves to tries, England fly-half Piers Francis making it 54-21 from the tee after 66 minutes.

The friendly had served its purpose but the Saints kept scoring with Harry Mallinder, Clare and Lewis Ludlam going over for a final score of 71-21.

Northampton scorers: tries – T Stephenson, T Collins, M Haywood, J Gibson, C Clare (2), M Eadie, D Ribbans, N Tuitavake, H Mallinder, L Ludlam ; conversions – J Grayson (4), P Francis (4)

Dragons: Z Kirchner, J Rosser, A Warren, C Edwards, J Goodchild (B Nightingale 24), D Jones (M O’Brien 63), O Leonard (J Leadbeater 40), L Garrett (K Bale 34, D Suter 40), L Belcher (G Ellis 40), B Harris (captain, K Bale 63), H Williams, R Landman (M Allen 63), M Allen (A Waite 57), D Rubasniak (R Jenkins 59), R Blake.

Scorers: tries – A Warren, D Jones, J Rosser; conversions – D Jones (3)

Referee: JP Doyle (England)