FORGET the fine margins; forget 11 points of missed kicks, forget being millimetres from the TMO giving the thumbs-up, forget a five-metre scrum that swung the match in Cardiff Blues’ favour – this
was a must-win game for Newport Gwent Dragons and they lost.
The puff of wind that was in the Dragons’ sails after an opening-night thrashing of Zebre is long gone thanks to a thoroughly depressing evening at Rodney Parade.
It may seem silly to call a round-three fixture in the RaboDirect Pro12 ‘must-win’ but this was a chance for the region to make a huge statement.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that they won’t be down with Connacht, Treviso and Zebre this season.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that Rodney Parade is a fortress again.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that they aren’t certainties for the Amlin Challenge Cup.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that they are more than capable of finishing above their regional rivals that have been harder hit by the Welsh player drain.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that it’s insulting to talk of turning them into a development region.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that they do have players who are capable of being on the international stage.
This was a time for the Dragons to show that they are on the right track as a region.
Yet unfortunately this was a time that made you wonder if it’s the same old, same old.
Coaches’ and players’ reputations hang on such games and they know that they have messed up.
It was a defeat that was every bit as deflating as the reverses to Connacht, Treviso and Leinster seconds at the end of last season.
Those three losses probably played their part in just 7,331 punters turning up for a derby against the Dragons’ nearest and fiercest rivals.
And it will be hard to convince some of them to return when Edinburgh head to Newport on September 28.
On Friday, BBC Northern Ireland showed a magnificent Pro12 derby between Ulster and Munsterthat that was of Heineken Cup quality.
Less than 24 hours later two Welsh regions locked horns in an error-strewn Pro12 derby that would make you want to turn to much stronger stuff.
In a way it was engrossing, but the entertainment was the sort of blundering fare that kept Dennis Norden in work.
It was a game dominated by the whistle of frustrating official Neil Hennessy and the breakdown prowess of Wales captain Sam Warburton and his Blues back-row colleague Josh Navidi.
Moments of quality were few and far between, with both sides coughing up possession with alarming regularity for professional players.
None the less, the Dragons would have been happy enough when they headed to their changing- room with a 5-3 half-time lead.
The Blues twice came close to opening the scoring with a forward pass denying Gavin Evans after a break by impressive young fly-half Rhys Patchell and a terrific Tom Prydie tackle preventing Alex
Cuthbert going over after a break from his 22.
In the end they had to settle for a Patchell penalty on 36 minutes but the lead didn’t last long.
The Dragons struck straight back when Steffan Jones – who had earlier smacked the post and bar with a monster penalty – darted over after good work by Andy Tuilagi, Lewis Evans and Phil Price.
It looked set to get even better for the hosts four minutes after the restart when they laid siege to the Blues line.
The video ref decided Price had not quite got over the whitewash but Mr Hennessy was playing advantage and awarded a penalty and yellow-carded prop Nathan Trevett.
“We’ll take the five-metre scrum,” said the Dragons, seemingly set to exploit the supposed set- piece fragility of their visitors.
Except, after two resets, Mr Hennessy penalised hooker Steve Jones for standing up.
If missing out on that chance was bad enough then the Dragons then allowed the 14 men of Cardiff to win the sin-bin period 7-0 when lock Adam Jones spilled the ball straight into Evans' grasp and
he put Wales Cuthbert over.
Patchell converted and it was the young fly-half who twisted the knife with a pair of late penalties – but the Dragons deserved nothing and they got nothing.
Not only did they miss the chance to take a leap forward themselves, but they passed up an opportunity to put the boot into a rival.
The season is just three games old and maybe this report will be made to look reactionary come the end of the season.
I hope so, and the beauty of sport is that there is always the chance for a quick riposte.
The Dragons next fixture? Munster at Thomond Park.
This is a time for them to show what they are made of. If they don't then they won't be around for the Blues fixture at Rodney Parade next season.