Ospreys win battle of mud as Dragons are ground down
UNFORTUNATELY while the rest of us emerged from our beds this morning pledging to turn over a new leaf, Newport Gwent Drag-ons operate in seasons rather than calendar years.
They are unable to start afresh with a clean slate in 2013 and are stuck with a pretty grim situation following yesterday’s Rabo Direct Pro12 defeat to the Ospreys.
One from bottom of the table, 10 points back on Cardiff Blues in the scrap to qualify for the Heineken Cup and all but mathematically out of both the LV= and Amlin Challenge Cups.
Yet any follower of rugby who switched their television on to watch the region’s festive derby clashes with Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day and the Ospreys would have been fairly impressed with what they saw.
Like in the capital, the Dragons certainly did not have the look of basement dwellers yesterday – they were abrasive, tenacious, had a solid enough set piece and showed no signs of low confidence.
In Lewis Evans and Toby Faletau they had two real warriors in the back, lock Andrew Coombs showed plenty of bite and loosehead Phil Price did well in the scrum and the loose.
Yet 160 minutes of determined graft have yielded just one losing bonus point; that age old Dragons problem.
Yesterday they were unable to continue their fine Rodney Parade record against the Ospreys.
Wales’ best region emerged 14-3 victors for only their second success in Newport, securing four hard-earned points that leaves them well-placed for a 2013 charge towards retaining their Pro12 crown.
The Dragons, meanwhile, just have to keep grafting and try and reel in some of the rivals above them in the table.
Key to doing that will be improving their woeful home record because the sodden Fortress Rodney Parade had sprung a leak long before yesterday – the Dragons headed into the Ospreys clash with a 2012 home record of eight wins and eight losses.
The west Walians would determine whether it would be a winning year or a losing year in Newport, and it was in the balance until the final quarter.
The Dragons' pack had fared well in the mud of Cardiff Arms Park but the Ospreys' front eight – spearheaded by the inspirational tighthead Adam Jones – were always going to be a sterner test.
Yet the hosts were up to the challenge, going toe to toe with a pack that boasted plenty of international experience.
It wasn’t up front where the game was lost – it was in the kicking tussle with Wales fly-half Dan Biggar and former Dragons full-back Richard Fussell keeping them pinned back, particularly in the second half.
The battle of the boot ensured that the Dragons once again earned that unwanted plucky losers tag, and they could also point to a costly start.
Less than four minutes had been played when Ospreys wing Eli Walker went over for a converted try that was all too easy, the hosts paying the price for fly-half Lewis Robling missing touch and then getting their midfield alignment wrong in defence.
To their credit they came firing back and dominated the next 10 minutes, eventually getting the points on the board that their efforts merited thanks to a Tom Prydie penalty.
Neither side was giving their opponent a moment’s rest at the breakdown and both defences were working hard with blindsides Lewis Evans and Ryan Jones having a heck of a ding-dong battle.
A pair of Biggar penalty misses, with a smattering of aimless kicking out of hand thrown in for good measure, ensured that it remained 7-3 at half-time.
The Dragons conceded early on in the first half and were tad fortunate not to suffer the same fate after the restart.
Referee Nigel Owens gave the benefit of doubt to scrum-half Jonathan Evans, deeming that he had made a fair attempt to ground the ball when he seemed to slap the ball out over his line with Walker well placed for a second, an offence that would have led to a penalty try.
It was Ospreys domination thanks to Biggar’s control and the pressure eventually told when Robling’s clearance kick was charged down to allow Wales centre Ashley Beck to waltz under the sticks on 62 minutes.
The seven-pointer cruelly left the Dragons with nothing to show for their efforts, an all-too-frequent occurrence at Rodney Parade in 2012.
Dragons: H Amos, W Harries, P Leach, A Tuilagi, T Prydie, L Robling, J Evans, P Price (O Evans 74), S Parry (H Gustafson 47), D Way (N Buck 49), R Sidoli, A Coombs (A Jones 70), L Evans (captain), N Cudd (T Brown 63), T Faletau.
Scorer: penalty – T Prydie Ospreys: R Fussell, R Jones (A Beck 58, T Habberfield 74), T Isaacs, A Bishop, E Walker, D Biggar, K Fotuali’i (captain), R Bevington (D Jones 68), R Hibbard (S Baldwin 68), A Jones (C Griffiths 74), L Peers (J Thomas 60), J King, R Jones (J Thomas 29-31), S Lewis, J Bearman (M Allen 65) Scorers: tries – E Walker, A Beck; conversions – Biggar 2 Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU) Attendance: 7,018 Argus star man: Lewis Evans