THE Dragons should have been spending this evening watching events at the Stoop to see who they would host in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup, instead the coming week will be spent preparing for the Rainbow Cup.

Dean Ryan’s men were dumped out of the Challenge Cup in the last 16 by Northampton after a remarkable game at Rodney Parade.

The Dragons looked certain to be entertaining either Harlequins or Ulster in the last eight when Wales prop Leon Brown smashed his way over on the hour.

His try followed earlier scores by wing Ashton Hewitt (2), lock Matthew Screech and fly-half Sam Davies and earned a 39-24 lead on the hour.

However, the Saints came storming back to steal the win thanks to a trio of late scores by back row forward Teimana Harrison, wing Taqele Naiyaravoro and finally speedster Tom Collins.

Here are some talking points from one that got away from the Dragons...

Free Press Series: LIVELY: Alex Mitchell offloads for NorthamptonLIVELY: Alex Mitchell offloads for Northampton


There were a number of moments that the Dragons will have replayed in their minds on Saturday night.

They led 22-3 on the stroke of half-time but Naiyaravoro exploited some sleepy defence at a ruck to canter over.

They were 39-24 up when Brown crashed over and Davies converted – a three-score lead should have been enough.

Yet it was a moment at 32-17 that was the most painful; the Dragons had just scored their fourth through Davies and Northampton were down to 13 men.

It should have been a time to put the squeeze on the Saints but instead the visitors struck through livewire scrum-half Alex Mitchell.

He picked out Greg Bateman at a ruck – would Brok Harris have made the tackle? – and then did opposite number Rhodri Williams for pace.

It was a superb finish but a nightmare score for the Dragons, even if they did respond through Brown.

They had a huge chance to kill the game off against 13 men but that 10-minute period ended 7-7.

Free Press Series: AGONY: The Dragons trudge off after defeatAGONY: The Dragons trudge off after defeat


The Dragons were so good for an hour but expect the last 20 minutes to be dissected in detail in Ystrad Mynach this week.

Director of rugby Dean Ryan said post-match that he felt they were too “passive” and that they simply hoped that the Saints would make mistakes rather than doing what they had done to earn a commanding lead.

It was the second time that the Dragons have paid the price for a poor finish against English opposition in Europe this season.

The game was in the balance against Wasps in the Champions Cup but they stretched away at the death to triumph 24-8.

That could be attributed to squad depth after a glut of late changes because of a coronavirus outbreak.

This time the Saints came storming back and one wonders whether things might have been different had the Dragons been able to field the injured Harris, Richard Hibbard and Ollie Griffiths in the 23.

The one consolation is that it wasn’t the worst Welsh implosion of the weekend – Cardiff Blues edge them for that after throwing away victory at London Irish.

Free Press Series: The Dragons stood firm against the Northampton driving lineoutThe Dragons stood firm against the Northampton driving lineout


The result tainted what had been an excellent performance against a Northampton side that drubbed them twice in 2018.

The Dragons played some enterprising rugby and once again their foundations were solid.

Their past month was summed up by a moment in the first half when they were awarded a free-kick.

The Dragons now have confidence in their scrum, with forwards coach Mefin Davies continuing the fine work of Ceri Jones, so opted for a set piece that they bossed for a penalty.

Sam Davies kicked to the 22, the pack rumbled forward and then the ball was moved sharply to the left for Hewitt to finish superbly.

The decision to start Lloyd Fairbrother with Brown adding impact was vindicated while the hope is that Josh Reynolds will continue to develop on the other side during the Rainbow Cup.

The Dragons scrummaged strongly and hit all their lineouts, while also standing firm against the Saints’ drive.

They are no longer a soft touch up front when facing well-drilled opponents.

Free Press Series: STRONG: Lloyd Fairbrother and Joe Davies shut the doorSTRONG: Lloyd Fairbrother and Joe Davies shut the door


The Saints clash was another big test of the progress made by the Dragons and although the all-important result was disappointing, the performance was not.

They have made strides over the past month and have beaten the Ospreys, Glasgow and Edinburgh and pushed Leinster, Ulster and Northampton hard.

The sole disappointment was the loss to Zebre in Parma but the Dragons have been more consistent of late and are bringing plenty of physicality.

They are no longer being bullied by those with a power game and the form of Ross Moriarty, Harrison Keddie, Joe Davies and Matthew Screech has been excellent in recent weeks.

Sadly on this occasion the Saints were too slick with ball in hand late on but the Rainbow Cup presents the chance to make more progress, and avenge the festive derby disappointments.