A MAMMOTH defensive effort wasn’t enough to prevent Newport Gwent Dragons from suffering a 20-10 RaboDirect Pro12 defeat to the Ospreys at the Millennium Stadium.
The Rodney Parade region didn’t get the hammering that many feared at Judgement Day and they were level-pegging with their playoff-chasing rivals entering the final stages.
Alas, they ended up with that familiar plucky losers tag that director of rugby Lyn Jones and his charges detest – and a late penalty try meant that they didn’t even get the bonus point that their endeavour deserved.
The Ospreys had started the game chasing a four-try bonus point yet in the end they were content to head home with the victory.
That was thanks to a magnificent backs-to-the-wall display by the Dragons, for whom flankers Lewis Evans and Nic Cudd were immense.
Before kick-off they lost skipper Andrew Coombs through tonsillitis and centre Pat Leach with a virus, which led to a RaboDirect Pro12 debut for 18-year-old Tyler Morgan, but they still stood firm.
It was a much, much better display than in recent weeks yet it failed to halt the slide in the RaboDirect Pro12; it’s now seven points from a possible 45 since the turn of the year.
Oodles of spirit but nothing to show for it.
It means that it will take a dramatic turnabout in fortunes for the Dragons to avoid the ignominy of being Wales’ worst region again.
Cardiff Blues 17-13 win over the Scarlets – their third on the spin – means they are now six clear.
Given that the Dragons have triumphed just once in the league in 2014 it would be a shock were they to turn over both the Scarlets in Llanelli and Treviso at Rodney Parade on final day.
The weekend’s results had meant victory would have sent the Dragons eight, leapfrogging Connacht and Edinburgh.
But that maths was done more in hope than expectation; the Ospreys closing the gap on Glasgow and Ulster in the battle for the playoffs was always more likely.
And so it proved despite the Dragons’ mammoth effort in defence.
Through their own choice they lost the Rodney Parade factor, sending the Ospreys to the Millennium Stadium rather than Newport where they have lost 10 of 12 encounters.
That offered a boost to the ‘visitors’ who were on the front foot from the off, piling the pressure on the Dragons’ line before full-back Richard Fussell crossed against his former employers.
Thankfully the big screen revealed a knock-on by scrum-half Tom Habberfield and earned an escape.
A combination of spirited defence, some awful decision-making and errors – most notably by number eight Dan Baker, who knocked on when reaching for the line – meant that the Dragons were still level after half an hour despite almost total dominance from the west Walians.
If the Dragons were attempting rope-a-dope tactics then they were doing it marvellously against an Ospreys side that were throwing haymakers without any accuracy or patience.
And their profligacy cost them on 32 minutes when Ryan Jones was yellow-carded for killing the ball in his 22 after a kick and chase by Dragons wing Will Harries.
It lost the Ospreys the momentum and released the pressure on Lyn Jones’ side – suddenly it was a more even contest and they got to half-time on level terms.
And five minutes after the resumption it was 7-0 to the Dragons after scrum-half Richie Rees crossed for a superb try, finishing off after Hallam Amos’ delightful pass set Morgan then lock Cory Hill in motion down the right flank.
Suddenly the fans from Gwent were daring to dream but it didn’t take long to return to the default setting of fearing the worst; a yellow card for workaholic flanker Nic Cudd was followed by Dan Biggar slotting over the penalty to make it 7-3.
And it was 10 points scored in the 10-minute sin bin period when Habberfield sniped over from close range with the Wales fly-half adding the extras for the lead.
It wasn’t to last long.
The score signalled Cudd’s return and it promptly became 10-10 with the Dragons enjoying a one-man advantage, centre Jonathan Spratt seeing yellow after slapping the ball down deliberately and wing Tom Prydie booting the resulting penalty between the sticks.
But the Dragons scrum was creaking as 39-year-old Duncan Bell tired and the Ospreys, now with Jones in their front row, marmalised their opponents to win a penalty that Biggar slammed over.
And when they repeated the trick with three minutes left they earned a penalty try that took away the Dragons’ losing bonus point, harshly making it a pointless trip to the capital.
Dragons: H Amos, T Prydie, T Morgan, J Dixon, W Harries, K Burton (J Tovey 52-56), R Rees (J Evans 79), P Price (O Evans 69), R Thomas (S Parry 73), D Bell (B Douglas 74), M Screech, C Hill (J Groves 73), N Talei (N Cudd 20,), L Evans (captain, L Robling 79), T Faletau.
Scorers: try – R Rees; conversion – K Burton; penalty – T Prydie
Yellow card: N Cudd, T Morgan
Ospreys: R Fussell (S Davies 44), J Hassler (A Natoga 70), J Spratt, A Beck, H Dirksen, D Biggar, T Habberfield (T Tebaldi 74), D Jones (N Smith 52), S Baldwin, A Jarvis (A Jones 60), R Jones, A W Jones (captain), J King (T Ardron 73), J Tipuric (S Lewis 66), D Baker.
Scorers: tries – T Habberfield, penalty; conversions – D Biggar (2); penalties – D Biggar (2)
Yellow card: R Jones
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Argus star man: Lewis Evans