Jones ensures the Dragons get their kicks from victory
WITH scrums that only those with cauliflower ears understand and messy breakdowns that prompt frustrated talk of interpretation of elaborate laws, rugby can sometimes do its best to complicate.
But Saturday evening showed that it can be a simple sport; get down into enemy territory, kick your goals, earn a lead, take the victory.
Newport Gwent Dragons headed into Saturday’s LV= Cup game against the Ospreys on the back of five successive defeats.
Talk of promising performances in four of those encounters had been rendered pointless by defeat, the latest of which against Wasps was largely down to failure from the kicking tee.
Enter Steffan Jones, a fly-half who has been out of favour and playing most of his rugby with Cross Keys rather than at regional level.
The 22-year-old booted six penalties from six attempts and ensured a team performance that was pretty uninspiring ended with a victory that was essential.
“The coaches gave me a shot and I had to take it or I would have been in the same position I have been over the last few weeks,” said Jones, who has been watching from the sidelines while Dan Evans and Lewis Robling have been preferred.
“They obviously believed in me to give me the opportunity, it was nice to take it and nice to get the win for the boys.
“I want to cement my place at fly-half and get a run of games. None of us have really grabbed the jersey and I know that I haven’t done that yet.
“You are only as good as your last game and if I get a shot against London Welsh then I have got to nail my marker down again.”
While Jones has his weaknesses in defence and some of the more physical aspects of the game, he is the best out-and-out fly-half on the books of the Dragons, who are beavering away to secure the summer arrival of a seasoned 10.
He has been linked with a move over the border after growing frustrated at Rodney Parade but hopefully this can be a turning-point in Jones’ career in Gwent.
Because it’s not being overdramatic to state that without his perfect record from the tee the Dragons would have slipped to one of the most humiliating defeats of recent times, probably since being turned over by Overmach Parma in 2006.
Back then some of the players who took to the field were yet to even reach their teens.
There was youth in both ranks but it was the Ospreys who had the most inexperience.
Their visitors’ side largely features in the Premiership while wing Matthew Pewtner and unused replacement scrum-half Rhys Downes were the only ones in the Dragons’ 23-man squad who have not experienced the RaboDirect Pro12 this season.
The hosts, for once, had the edge in terms of experience yet it was anything but men against boys.
The awful conditions played their part in a game that was dominated by the whistle of Llyr Ap Geraint-Roberts, the English official from Worksop with a Welsh name.
While members of the Rodney Parade ground staff were quietly weeping given that County play at home tomorrow evening, the game was being played with a slippery ball in the mud.
The Bargoed 8-9-10 axis of Ieuan Jones, Jonathan Evans and Steffan Jones performed well, while teenage centre Jack Dixon showed power to frequently get over the gain line, clinging onto the greasy ball impressively.
But it wasn’t an evening for youngsters to showcase their talent.
Flowing rugby with dazzling scores was never likely and there was only one close-range try, by Wales back-row forward Jonathan Thomas for the Ospreys in the second half.
Other than that it was a kicking duel between Jones and the diminutive Matthew Morgan, who impressed in open play but came off second best from the tee.
It was 9-9 at the break after a first half that was overshadowed by a cruel injury suffered in the opening exchanges by Dragons wing Mike Poole, a man staking a claim for the most unlucky man in rugby.
The 26-year-old, who has suffered serious ligament damage to both knees, broke his left ankle after landing awkwardly when tackled from behind. Unfortunately it will lead to a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
With a strong wind at their backs the Dragons would have been confident of turning the screw in the second half, yet it was the visitors who looked to have made a telling blow approaching the hour.
After Pewtner made a hash of a Morgan penalty that was flying over the dead ball line, the Ospreys piled on the pressure before Thomas eventually spun over the whitewash.
At 14-12 down it would have been easy to panic, yet thankfully the Dragons kept their nerve and Jones kept his rhythm, stroking over his fifth and six penalties to avert a crisis.
Rarely can an LV= Cup win have been cheered so raucously; this time it was the young Ospreys who were left to take pride from a plucky defeat.