DRAGONS 24 GLASGOW 23
5:26pm Sunday 23rd February 2014 in Sport
WHAT a difference a year makes.
In February 2013 Glasgow romped to an eight-try, 60-3 victory at Rodney Parade but in February 2014 Newport Gwent Dragons’ tenacity and spirit completed a RaboDirect Pro12 double of the title hopefuls.
It looked like the Scots would maintain their perfect league away record when they led 20-10 on the hour but a stirring Dragons fightback secured a vital victory.
Lock Cory Hill and wing Ross Wardle crossed for tries that Rhys Jones converted to set up a frantic finale that saw the hosts defend with both physicality and discipline to take the spoils.
Four hard-earned points sees them stretch away from Cardiff Blues but more importantly keeps the heat on the sixth-placed Scarlets, potentially important for European qualification.
They had to dig deep for success and last season it’s unlikely that they would have come back, so it’s a shame that an entertaining encounter was played in front of a crowd of just 3,916.
Those that did venture out on Sunday afternoon were rewarded by a determined display by a Dragons side that had won just once in six games since the turn of the year and who started the week without a tighthead.
Jason Forster and Simon Raiwalui must have checked their mobiles for missed calls when news emerged that Duncan Bell had come out of retirement to beef up the region’s pack.
It was a surprise move yet the 39-year-old former England and Bath tighthead did a sterling job on his return to the professional game after a two-year absence.
The scrum wasn’t shunted backwards like it had been in recent weeks by Bath, Northampton, Newcastle and Leinster while he got through a fair bit of work before heading off after 45 minutes for a sit down and a Ginsters.
It should be stressed that the set piece improvement was not simply down to Bell and his fellow veteran debutant Bruce Douglas.
The whole front eight put in a much better display with number eight Lewis Evans, flanker Nic Cudd and lock Andrew Coombs really putting themselves about to enable scrum-half Richie Rees to pulls the strings superbly.
But the Dragons had to do things the hard way.
Everything that Jason Tovey touched turned to gold when the sides met in Glasgow – the fly-half managing a clean sweep of a try, two conversions, two penalties and a drop goal in a 23-8 success – but he made a shocking start on home turf.
Warriors flanker Rob Harley charged down his second-minute kick and pounced on the loose ball to earn his side a 7-0 lead.
Tovey and Glasgow centre Mark Bennett traded penalties before the hosts struck with a superb try on 16 minutes that saw prop Owen Evans finishing like Alex Cuthbert.
The ball was worked to the right where Coombs conjured an offload to put wing Matthew Pewtner in full flight and he provided the assist to his loosehead, who showed gas, switched the ball from left to right so that he could fend off one defender and then carried the others over the line on his back.
The hosts then had the better of proceedings until on the stroke of half-time they gifted turnover ball to one of the most dangerous broken field runners in European rugby.
Miscommunication between lock Cory Hill and flanker Nic Cudd saw the Dragons lose possession inside the Glasgow 22 and enabled Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu to chip over the defence, get the benefit of the bounce to gather and then show the pace to elude Pat Leach’s desperate dive.
Finn Russell added the extras for a 17-10 lead at the break and his penalty stretched the Scots’ advantage entering the final quarter against a Dragons side struggling for territory and hindered by a pair of misses by full-back Rhys Jones, who assumed responsibility from the tee when Tovey limped off after a quarter.
Yet from 20-10 down the Dragons were 24-23 in front with 10 minutes left thanks to a quickfire brace of tries.
First lock Cory Hill, who was just about to be replaced, finished down the right after a sniping break by magnificent scrum-half Richie Rees.
And then, after another Russell penalty, replacement wing Ross Wardle stayed calm to gather a loose ball from a chargedown before going over down the left.
Rhys Jones struck a marvellous conversion and suddenly the hosts had a lead to protect and they did just that by showing defensive steel at the death.
Dragons: R Jones, M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith (captain), W Harries (R Wardle 45-52, 58), J Tovey (D Jones 21), R Rees, O Evans (P Price 58), R Thomas, D Bell (B Douglas 45), A Coombs, C Hill, J Groves (M Screech 68), N Cudd, L Evans.
Scorers: tries – O Evans, C Hill, R Wardle; conversions – J Tovey, R Jones (2); penalty – J Tovey
Glasgow: R Jackson, L Jones, R Vernon, M Bennett (F Niua 68), B McGuigan (H Pyrgos 58), F Russell, N Matawalu (R Hughes 70), J Yanuyanutawa (G Reid 45), D Hall (F Brown 52), M Cusack (J Welsh 38), L Nakarawa (T Ryder 52), J Gray, R Harley, T Holmes, J Strauss (captain).
Scorers: tries – R Harley, N Matawalu; conversions – F Russell (2) ; penalties – M Bennett, F Russell (2)
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Argus star man: Richie Rees