Agony on Parade for Dragons
Dragons 19 Leinster 23
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons’ perfect home record was brought to an end by RaboDirect Pro12 champions Leinster in agonising fashion at Rodney Parade.
The Irish province succeeded where fellow 2012/13 semi-finalists Ulster and the Scarlets failed by taking the spoils 23-19 in Newport.
But the Dragons were oh so close to recording a fifth home win on the spin.
They were camped on the Leinster line at the death and thought they had snatched the spoils when replacement scrum-half Jonathan Evans darted over – only for pedantic referee Peter Fitzgibbon to call back his quick tap.
The Irish province then held firm in the cruellest of ends to another thriller at Rodney Parade.
Newport Gwent Agoraphobics have suffered on their travels this season but their home form, with Zebre and Mogliano also on their list of victims, had made it an encouraging start to the campaign.
But it’s now three defeats on the spin for Lyn Jones’ side following demoralising losses at Bath and the Ospreys, where they were smashed in the tight five.
However, they paper over the cracks on their own turf with guts, determination and a smattering of enterprising attack.
In the end a yellow card for lock Adam Jones for taking out Dominic Ryan at a lineout proved to be the Dragons’ undoing.
Fitzgibbon had a shocker but his assistant Ian Davies made the right call.
The champions scored 14 unanswered points in the sin-bin period – tries by hooker Aaron Dundon and centre Noel Reid – to turn a 13-9 deficit into a 23-13 lead.
It was just enough to take the four points leaving the Dragons having to settle for a bonus point against a European heavyweight.
Sure, Leinster were without a host of Irish internationals but they always are when they head to Rodney Parade.
And the wealth of talent at their disposal meant that they were still able to call on South Africa full-back Zane Kirchner, New Zealander Jimmy Gopperth at fly-half, ex-Australia wing Lote Tuqiri and tenacious Irish back row forwards Shane Jennings and Rhys Ruddock.
Leinster had won the previous six meetings between the sides and started as favourites despite the hosts just being without Wales pair Toby Faletau and Andrew Coombs.
The Dragons made an inauspicious start with handling errors, a struggling scrum, poor decisions and a kick out on the full.
But they eventually settled and it was level-pegging after a quarter with Kiwi fly-half Jimmy Gopperth’s opening penalty cancelled out by a booming long-range effort from Dragons wing Tom Prydie.
With fly-half Jason Tovey, who was sorely missed against the Ospreys, kicking beautifully out of hands the hosts settled.
But they had a lucky escape in the 28th minute when Jason Tovey spilled a high ball – a problem that blighted the Dragons throughout – and Leinster went on the attack.
Kirchner’s grubber kick bounced into the hands of centre Reid and he put Gopperth over down the left.
It seemed a matter of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts when referee Peter Fitzgibbon when to the television match official but a super cover tackle by Prydie had forced Reid into touch – just.
And boy did the Dragons make the most of their let-off.
A penalty 60 metres out was taken quickly by in-form scrum-half Richie Rees who passed on to Pat Leach, who juggled the ball then offloaded to Hallam Amos, who found Prydie, who found Wardle, who slid over.
It was a remarkable score that sparked bedlam on the terraces and stands.
Tovey added the conversion from the right touchline only for one of many shocking decisions by Fitzgibbon to allow Gopperth to narrow the gap to 10-6 at the break.
Tovey got the Dragons moving with another penalty just after the restart but sloppiness – a woeful pass by flanker Jevon Groves inside the 22 and a missed touch by Tovey – threatened to lose the initiative.
And Leinster duly responded, the right boot of Gopperth again doing the damage to make it 13-9 with half an hour left.
Then came Jones’ costly yellow card to and the Dragons were suddenly chasing the game rather than protecting a slender lead.
And chase it they did.
A pair of Tovey penalties, with replacement Leinster prop Jack O’Connell yellow-carded for the second, made it 23-19 to the visitors going into the final exchanges.
Sadly that is how it stayed.
Dragons: H Amos, T Prydie, P Leach, R Wardle, A Hughes (D Evans 54), J Tovey, R Rees (J Evans 54), O Evans (N Williams 54), S Parry (H Gustafson 76), D Way (F Chaparro 70), A Jones (I Jones 64), M Screech, J Groves (R Sidoli 57), L Evans (captain), N Talei.
Scorers: try – R Wardle; conversion – J Tovey; penalties – J Tovey (3), T Prydie
Yellow card: A Jones
Leinster: Z Kirchner, D Fanning, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, L Tuqiri (B Macken 70), J Gopperth, J Cooney, M Bent (J O’Connell 63), A Dundon, M Moore (T Furlong 70), Q Roux, T Denton (B Marshall 63), D Ryan (L Auva’a 63), S Jennings (captain), R Ruddock.
Scorers: tries – A Dundon, N Reid; conversions – J Gopperth (2); penalties – J Gopperth (3)
Yellow card: J O’Connell
Referee: Peter Fizgibbon (Ireland)
Argus star man: Matthew Screech
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