Zebre 13 Dragons 14
6:32pm Sunday 24th February 2013 in Sport
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons avoided the ignominy of becoming Zebre’s first victim thanks to Steffan Jones’ late penalty in Parma this afternoon.
The fly-half from Bargoed edged the Rodney Parade region in front in the 69th minute and they clung on for the RaboDirect Pro12 victory, though they were grateful to see Paulo Buso fail with a penalty with seven minutes left.
It was the Dragons’ first league away win since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield in March 2012.
There will have been plenty of sighs of relief from the visitors at the final whistle, such was the pressure they were under prior to kick-off.
The Dragons headed into the game on the back of a 60-3 Rodney Parade drubbing against Glasgow – the heaviest in their history.
All week they had stressed the need to respond to that humiliation and they did that by avoiding what would have been a humiliating defeat in Italy.
Since their inception last summer Zebre had lost all 21 of their fixtures before yesterday afternoon.
That woeful record means that victory for the Dragons is no cause to pop open the champagne, nor does it make up for Glasgow, but it does at least avoid another addition to the 2012/13 list of shame.
The region were shellshocked as Zebre built up a healthy 10-3 lead going into the break, thanks to a try from Matteo Pratichetti and the accurate kicking of Alberto Chillon.
Jones had put three points on the board in the first half, though, and his kicking proved key in boosting the value of a solitary touchdown from Jevon Groves in the 61st minute.
Pride was realistically the only thing at stake for the Italians, who still prop up the table with a meagre haul of seven points.
But when home stand-off Chillon kicked a penalty in the 21st minute there was cause for cheer, and centre Pratichetti duly went over seven minutes after Jones had levelled the scores from the kicking tee.
That try was converted by Chillon and the Parmesan club held a sizeable advantage at the interval.
They increased their lead to 10 points through another Chillon penalty when play resumed but the Dragons soon began to wrest back some control.
Jones’ second penalty brought the Dragons within sight of victory in the 56th minute and back-row forward Groves dotted down to narrow the deficit to just two points with 19 minutes to play.
The Italian crowd cheered when the subsequent penalty was missed but Parma fell silent when Jones steered his third and final penalty through the sticks to win the game in the 69th minute.
The Dragons close to within a point of 10th-placed Edinburgh, who lost at Ospreys on Friday, with reigning champions Leinster next up at Rodney Parade. Zebre, meanwhile, are 15 points adrift at the bottom of the table.