Wasps 38 Dragons 25
IT’S nights like the one at Adams Park on Saturday that hammer home the loss of Dan Lydiate.
While the Wales blindside flanker watched on television, his Newport Gwent Dragons team-mates were overpowered by London Wasps in an Amlin Challenge Cup encounter that wasn’t as close as the scoreline suggests.
Not only did the Dragons miss the defensive steel and hard-nosed graft of Lydiate, but his absence has sent ripples throughout the team.
The need to put someone else’s name next to 6 on the teamsheet has given the region’s coaches problems akin to solving a Rubik’s cube; your efforts at shifting things around to solve one panel just lead to troubles elsewhere.
The Dragons opted to give Tom Brown – an out-and-out number eight – the start at blindside on Saturday evening.
The thinking behind the selection would have been to add to their ball-carrying options, given that he was slotting into the back row with Toby Faletau.
That meant that they needed the contact area skills of Jevon Groves at lock, yet the 24-year-old (a back-row forward by trade) lacks the grunt and bulk to be a top lock.
It was a lack of oomph up front that was once again the Dragons’ downfall in the four- tries-to-three defeat.
Wasps had lock Marco Wentzel masterminding a lineout that provided a steady stream of possession and they won the battle of the collisions despite the inclusion of both Brown and Faletau.
With South African blindside Ashley Johnson prominent alongside young England prospects Billy Vunipola and the magnificent Joe Launchbury, the hosts were constantly on the front foot.
The Dragons, meanwhile, had to try to do their best without a platform up front with Wales number eight Toby Faletau often having to field a greasy ball under pressure, and his skills at the base of the scrum aren’t always the best anyway Such problems up front mean changes elsewhere are like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. A struggling tight five is a familiar problem, and one that can only be solved with investment.
Despite all their problems the Dragons did fight back with spirit and were pressing for a pair of bonus points at the death.
But that would have just papered over the cracks because they were comfortably second best to a Wasps side that are no great shakes, as is shown by their struggles in the Aviva Premiership.
The Dragons made a dream start when centre Adam Hughes – all 14st 6lb of him – did his impression of Jonah Lomu to send Scotland full-back Hugo Southwell sprawling on his way to the try line.
It was a score that gave hope of an evening of flowing rugby for the visitors after fly-half Lewis Robling and teenage wing Hallam Amos combined wonderfully to put their number 13 clear.
However, things were looking grim for the Dragons after the first quarter.
Wentzel’s delightful offload put wing Jack Wallace in down the right, Italian tighthead Fabio Staibano added a second, former Wales fly-half Nicky Robinson kicked 10 points and visiting full-back Dan Evans was sin-binned for taking out scrum-half Joe Simpson without the ball (necessary to save seven points).
Grim got grimmer when A-level student Amos made a schoolboy error – he attempted to put his right boot over his line when grounding the kick through to earn a drop out from the 22 but the ball had stopped rolling. The result was a five-metre scrum and Vunipola duly crashed over.
There was a brief rally when replacement loosehead Owen Evans scored on debut, with Robling adding a conversion and penalty to make it 25-15 at half-time.
Had the Dragons come out firing in the second half then it could have been interesting.
Instead they made a hash of the restart and allowed Wasps to get on the front foot to earn three penalties, two of which Robinson kicked.
Joe Simpson secured Wasps’ bonus point on the hour and the English outfit took their eye off the ball.
That allowed 17-year-old replacement centre Jack Dixon to cross for the Dragons’ third try and they were in a position to push for a pair of bonus points at the death.
In a repeat of their RaboDirect Pro12 defeat at Leinster, those hopes were crushed by a botched lineout in the opposition’s 22.
But in all honesty the Dragons could have few complaints about heading home with nothing to show for their efforts.