JUST like it is foolish to read too much into last week’s 40-3 drubbing by Biarritz, it would be daft to crack open the bubbly after Newport Gwent Dragons’ win against London Irish.
But the region can at least head into the start of the RaboDirect Pro12 with a spring in their step after a two tries to none success against Aviva Premiership opposition at Rodney Parade last night.
Victory was nice, if not essential, after the pre-season losses to a Gwent Select XV and the French giants but it was the manner of the performance that was all important.
It’s all about taking the spoils when new Italian franchise Zebre stampede into Newport on Friday, August 31, and to that end there were some encouraging signs.
The Dragons kicking game was excellent, they tightened up their defence after shipping six tries to Biarritz and worked on some neat moves from set piece while the new boys impressed.
Full-back Dan Evans and wing Tom Prydie were pretty solid and kicked excellently while lock Ian Nimmo caught the eye.
He formed an excellent second-row combination that provides head coach Darren Edwards with a selection quandary – does he break it up for last season’s Argus Dragon of the Year Rob Sidoli?
But it wasn’t just the players that were honing their skills last night; the groundstaff were presented with their first stern challenge of the Rodney Parade groundshare. An afternoon deluge of biblical proportions was followed by evening showers, leaving plenty of fork-work to be done before County’s home encounter with Lincoln this afternoon.
The Dragons would love to come flying out of the blocks like their fellow tenants when they host Zebre and they would settle for a repeat of last night’s first half display.
Irish made a lively start despite arriving at the ground late because of traffic problems – given they fielded Homer at full-back it could be called a journey of epic proportions – yet it was the Dragons that took control.
Prydie slotted over a seventh-minute penalty before fly-half Steffan Jones capped a mature opening by jinking through midfield on the 22 and sliding over in the corner.
The wet weather was making it hard to put together any sustained attacks but the Dragons should have stretched their lead approaching the half hour only for centre Adam Hughes to knock on when attempting to ground Steffan Jones’ smart chip over the top.
Irish full-back Tom Homer traded penalties with Prydie and it was 11-3 to the Dragons at the break, though the gloss was taken off by wing Matthew Pewtner – who at times seems like he is made of balsa wood – and flanker Darren Waters limping off.
Waters was cursing as he headed to the changing room and it was understandable – his wholehearted performance was certainly putting the pressure on skipper Lewis Evans, who was absent through injury.
It didn’t take long for the Dragons to stretch their lead, Hughes this time making no mistake after Steffan Jones capitalised on Dan Evans’ break.
Prydie’s touchline conversion was followed by three penalties for Irish by Welshman Steve Shingler, who last year tried to play for Scotland.
But 18-12 was as close as the visitors got as the Dragons defended stoutly.