SCARLETS 34 DRAGONS 23
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons will once again finish as Wales’ worst region after being beaten 34-23 by the Scarlets in Llanelli.
The Rodney Parade region endured another pointless RaboDirect Pro12 encounter and slump since the turn of the year – taking a dismal 7 points from a possible 50 - means that Cardiff Blues are now out of their reach.
The tenth-placed Dragons headed west on a wave of a crest furore after abandoning a web vote for a new logo because of a negative reaction.
And after half an hour it looked like very few of the Dragons would be doing the badge proud in Llanelli when their hosts crossed for a third try to make it 24-3.
Thankfully the visitors rallied to make a game of it but, once again, they were left with nothing to show for their honest toil.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom and the performance of the back three of the excellent Hallam Amos and wings Tom Prydie and Will Harries provided plenty of excitement.
However, the Dragons were once again let down by a faltering set piece, something that simply has to get better next season (a phrase that has been uttered for many years).
Defeat ensured a pair of miserable eights for the Dragons – it means that 2013/14 will be the eighth season out of 11 that they have suffered away whitewashes against their regional rivals and the eighth time that they have finished as Wales’ worst region.
The pointless trip west means that Lyn Jones’ side can no longer catch the Blues but also leaves them needing to beat Treviso at Rodney Parade next Saturday to avoid a repeat of last term’s shocking 11th-place finish in the Pro12.
Not only that, but the Dragons will hope Zebre don’t stun Glasgow in Scotland or they could end up bottom of the pile.
Against the Ospreys a fortnight earlier it was scoreless as they headed to the Millennium Stadium sheds but sadly the scoreboard operator was much, much busier in Llanelli.
The Dragons actually made a lively start and were good value for a 3-0 lead after 10 minutes courtesy of a Kris Burton penalty.
From there it went wrong. Badly wrong.
The Scarlets scored a pair of tries courtesy of their well-drilled driving lineout; the Dragons may have stopped the mauls but conceded from the following phases on their line to Wales lock Jake Ball and impressive scrum-half Gareth Davies.
They went over for their third from inside their own half just past the half-hour when Lions centre Jonathan Davies exposed Wales Under-20s prospect Jack Dixon in defence before allowing Davies to put Jordan Williams over.
Priestland, who had earlier booted a penalty, made it three conversions from three.
Game over at 24-3? It seemed so but the Dragons rallied in the final stages of the half.
First Burton booted over a penalty from in front of the sticks and that conservative call proved to be the correct one when the ex-Italy fly-half intercepted Priestland just inside his own half.
The 20-year-old Burton may have made it all the way but the 33-year-old did not have the legs on the covering Davies so passed to centre Pat Leach, who shipped the ball on to wing Tom Prydie to go over.
The half-time score of 24-13 was nothing to write home about but the late scores at least saved the Parc y Scarlets crockery from being thrown against the away changing room wall.
And the Dragons made an excellent start to the second half when Burton chipped between the sticks to make it an eight-point game, but they were swiftly back under the pump.
The Scarlets piled the pressure on and won a penalty close to the line. They swiftly opted for the scrum and even the introduction of tighthead Duncan Bell couldn’t stop the Dragons being marched backwards.
Thankfully the ball popped out but the hosts retained possession, kept the attack going and Wales hooker Ken Owens dotted down for the bonus point, Priestland’s conversion making it 31-16.
A fifth try looked on the cards approaching the hour when the hosts piled the pressure on against the Dragons, who were down to 14 men courtesy of hooker Rhys Thomas’ yellow for dragging down a maul, but instead it was the other line that was crossed.
Turnover ball was hacked to halfway, Harries won the race to it and offloaded to Leach to put a peach of a kick through for Prydie.
Tovey converted to make it 31-23 entering the final quarter only for a sweetly-struck Priestland penalty to increase the Scarlets’ lead to 11 and snuffed out any slim hopes of a rare Dragons away win.
Scarlets: S Shingler, K Phillips (F Climo 56), J Davies (captain), O Barkley (G Maule 60), J Williams, R Priestland, G Davies (R Williams 68), P John (R Evans 61), K Owens (K Myhill 68), S Lee (R Jones 62), J Ball, G Earle (J Snyman 40), J Turnbull, J Barclay, R McCusker (A Shingler 31-16).
Scorers: tries – J Ball, G Davies, J Williams, K Owens; conversions – R Priestland (4); penalties – R Priestland (2)
Dragons: H Amos, T Prydie, P Leach (T Morgan 68), J Dixon, W Harries, K Burton (J Tovey 52), R Rees (J Evans 15-19, 68), P Price (O Evans 75), R Thomas (S Parry 72), B Douglas (D Bell 44), A Coombs (captain), M Screech (D Waters 75), L Evans (S Parry 53-60, J Groves 60), N Cudd, T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – T Prydie (2); conversions – K Burton, J Tovey; penalties – K Burton (3)
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Bridgend)
Argus star man: Hallam Amos