Flood of defeats halted as Dragons find their paddle – Match report: Newport Gwent Dragons 14 Connacht 3
WHILE much of Britain is in the midst of a flooding mop-up mission, Newport Gwent Dragons are celebrating the end of a drought.
They headed into the game with Connacht on the back of seven losses – a regional record – and with just whipping boys Zebre beneath them in the RaboDirect Pro12 table.
The Dragons knew that an eighth on the spin was not an option and two long, painful months since Edinburgh were defeated at Rodney Parade they were finally able to toast another victim.
It wasn’t a night for fancy miss moves and flowing rugby – winning ugly was the order of the day and Darren Edwards’ side did just that.
They didn’t make the most encouraging start but defended stoutly and cashed in when the chances came their way.
And it was a brainy performance; once the Dragons got their noses in front they played a smart game to keep their hard-running but rather limited visitors in check.
Fly-half Dan Evans was once again excellent at fly-half, overcoming a shaky start to play a canny game, while the back row put in a fine shift that was full of energy and feistiness.
Flanker Nic Cudd followed up a fine performance against Northampton with a display of desire and commitment at the breakdown, the openside getting through a mountain of work.
The Dragons headed into the game with plenty of confidence courtesy of a good showing against Northampton in the LV= Cup five days previously.
However, they made a nervy start and allowed Connacht to live off their mistakes.
Former Cardiff Blues and Scotland fly-half Dan Parks booted a fourth-minute penalty and dictated play on an evening that was perfect for his kicking game. An already greasy pitch, a pre-match downpour and persistent drizzle played into his hands, or rather his trusty right peg.
The visitors were winning the battle for territory but the game swung the way of the Dragons before half-time.
First full-back Tom Prydie kicked a 25th-minute penalty to level that also saw Jason Harris-Wright yellow-carded and the hooker was swiftly followed to the sin bin by flanker Andrew Browne for use of the boot.
The Dragons made use of their two-man advantage when a patient attack – admirable given the conditions – was finished off by Pat Leach, who slid over in the left corner.
That seemed to settle the nerves of the previously anxious crowd and there were murmurs of cautious content as the hosts headed to the changing rooms with an 8-3 lead.
It got even better six minutes into the second half when Prydie booted the Dragons a score clear as Connacht’s indiscipline cost them again.
Given the rain that was lashing down, all the hosts needed to do was play it smart, to boss territory and keep the Irish province pinned back.
As it has so often this season, Dan Evans’ mammoth left boot proved invaluable to that aim.
And when Prydie booted another penalty to make it 14-3 with half an hour left the Dragons were in a position that they simply had to convert into a win.
The situation stirred Connacht to have their best spell of the game but the defence – with Leach and flanker Nic Cudd prominent – held firm.
But the door was opened slightly for the Irish province when captain Lewis Evans was shown yellow, Mr Vivarini getting fed up with their indiscretions.
A marvellous Dan Evans tackle saved a try that would have given them hope and their evening was summed up when a penalty try looked possible only for Connacht to be pinged for an early engagement It was as close as they were to come to crossing the Dragons line as they closed out the game well to earn a hard-earned and well-deserved win as well as a clean sheet to please defence coach Rob Appleyard.
An ugly win it may have been but it was one to produce smiles on Dragons faces – something that there have not been too many of in a trouble season.
And it was a four-pointer that gives the Dragons a real opportunity, Treviso away in seven days’ time is tough but do-able and after that comes a European double-header with Mogliano.
A streak of four on the spin is not out of the question ahead of the festive derbies – the Dragons will be hoping that when it rains, it pours when it comes to wins.
Dragons: T Prydie, W Harries, P Leach, A Smith (J Dixon HT), T Chavhanga, D Evans, W Evans (J Evans 57), P Price (O Evans 77), H Gustafson (S Jones 57), D Way (N Buck 54), A Jones, R Sidoli (I Nimmo 75), L Evans (captain, I Jones 79), N Cudd, T Brown.
Scorers: tries – P Leach, penalties – T Prydie (3) Connacht: R Henshaw, T O’Hallaran, D Poolman, D McSharry, G Duffy (captain), D Parks, K Marmion (D Moore 75), D Buckley, J Harris-Wright (E Reynecke 28- 35), N White (R Ah You 65), M Swift, M Kearney, A Browne, W Faloon, E McKeon.
Scorers: penalty – D Parks
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarini (Italy)
Argus star man: Nic Cudd