Dragons earn their stripes in comfortable victory over Zebre
PERHAPS it is a sign of a super start to the season that there was a tinge of disappointment after Newport Gwent Dragons’ dominant 30-7 win against Zebre.
It was very nearly a textbook display from the Rodney Parade region against frustrating foes – they ground their way to a position of strength and then went in search of a four-try bonus point.
In the end they were just a few minutes and a couple of inches short of securing a first five-point haul in the RaboDirect Pro12 since thrashing Zebre in 2012/13.
Nonetheless, the Dragons maintained their perfect home record and bagged a third win of the season to climb into the top half of the table.
Promising times for a region that won just six times in the league last season.
It was not the most glamorous of wins but against niggly opponents it was a case of grabbing the four points with glee, especially given the man with the whistle.
Italian referee Matteo Liperini was frustrating to watch from the sidelines so goodness knows what he must have been like for the players.
He certainly couldn’t be accused of favouring his countrymen – they were on the wrong end of the penalty count – but he just wasn’t good enough, especially when compared to the excellent performance of Nigel Owens in the Scarlets game a fortnight earlier.
Nonetheless, the Dragons had a job to do and they did it well.
At the heart of the performance was Wales and Lions star Toby Faletau, who produced a performance so destructive that Newport council will be giving the Dragons envious glances as well as Top 14 clubs.
Combined with the unerring place kicking of Jason Tovey, who struck six from six for a 15-point haul, and the finishing of teenage wing Hallam Amos, who bagged a brace, the number eight helped to secure the spoils.
It was a frantic start with the hosts frequently causing problems for themselves with shoddy handling.
When Zebre visited Rodney Parade on the opening night of the 2012/13 season the Dragons bagged a bonus point before the half-time whistle.
The hosts barely had a sniff of a score in the first half of this season’s encounter as the error count moved along a lot faster than the scoreboard.
The heat was on the Dragons going in to the game – win and it would represent a fine start to the campaign, lose and it would be two steps forward and a giant one back.
It was a key game and this was no time for experimentation; director of rugby Lyn Jones went for his strongest side possible with his first-choice half-backs Richie Rees and Tovey and a beefy back row of Netani Talei, Lewis Evans and Toby Faletau.
They wanted to take the game to the Italians early on to ensure that they didn’t get a sniff of an upset.
The Dragons managed that but it through the left boot of Tovey rather than posing questions with ball in hand.
The fly-half knocked over three penalties and then, with the last kick of the half, added the extras from the left touchline when the hosts were presented with a gift of a try.
Impressive former All Blacks scrum-half Brendon Leonard made a rare error at the base of a scrum close to the Zebre line and the loose ball found its way to wing Hallam Amos via Rees and Talei.
It would take an almighty implosion to throw away a 16-0 lead but the Dragons still desired a swift start in the second half to settle the nerves.
And they killed off the game with what is sure to be a try of the season contender by Amos.
The winger did the easiest part by scoring in the left corner after a simply sensational break by Faletau from a scrum on halfway, the Wales number eight sprinting into the Zebre 22 and passing to Tovey, who offloaded to Amos after being dragged down just short.
The fly-half maintained his 100 per cent record with another sublime conversion.
With a 23-0 lead the Dragons could now go in hunt of a bonus point but instead it was the visitors who crossed, wing Leonardo Sarto going over after a smart cross-kick for a try that Italy fly-half Luciano Orquera converted.
However, that didn’t stall the Dragons and they got try number three after Italy flanker/scrum-half Mauro Bergamasco was sin-binned for one offence too many, back row forward Lewis Evans going over after a powerful scrum close to the line.
They then went hunting a fourth and the final moments were spent inside the Zebre 22. Unfortunately the Italians showed spirit when the game was gone to prevent the Dragons finishing with a flourish.
Dragons: D Evans (K Burton 70), A Hughes, R Wardle, J Dixon (W Harries 40), H Amos, J Tovey, R Rees (J Evans70), O Evans (P Price 56), S Parry (H Gustafson 56), F Chaparro (D Way 62), R Sidoli (M Screech 70), A Coombs (captain), N Talei (I Jones 62), L Evans, T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – H Amos (2), L Evans; conversions – J Tovey (3); penalties – J Tovey (3)
Zebre: R Trevisan, L Sarto, T Iannone, G Garcia, D Berryman, L Orquera (R Quartaroli 70), B Leonard (A Chillon 70), S Perugini (M Aguero 52), D Giazzon (T D’Apice 40), D Chistolini, G Biagi, M Bortolami (captain), M Bergamasco, A van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.
Scorers: try – L Sarto; conversion – L Orquera
Yellow card: M Bergamasco
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Argus star man: Toby Faletau
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