THE Dragons’ hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the European Challenge Cup are hanging by a thread after a 23-9 loss to Benetton in Treviso.

The Rodney Parade region – who have a solitary win to their name this season – are likely to have their chances of sneaking into the last 16 killed off next weekend while they are on a bye week.

Dean Ryan’s men headed to the Stadio di Monigo with the aim of recording a win to set up a cracker against Gloucester in April.

However, qualification is unlikely to be on the line when the Cherry and Whites head to Newport after defeat in an error-strewn game.

The quality was poor with the Dragons having the mitigation of almost a month on the sidelines courtesy of their trio of derby postponements in the United Rugby Championship because of coronavirus.

Frustratingly, they now have another week off in what has been a fractured campaign but the pressure will be on when they are reunited with Benetton.

Fans will be back in Rodney Parade for the URC meeting with the Italians when both teams will be without their Six Nations contingent.

The punters will expect to see their side win for only the second time this season and a dramatically improved performance will be needed.

South Wales Argus: Aaron Wainwright carries hard for the DragonsAaron Wainwright carries hard for the Dragons

The Dragons were kicked into an early lead by Sam Davies and his opposite number Rhyno Smith missed a chance to level from the tee in the 12th minute.

The next penalty was kicked to the 22 rather than at the posts and while the drive was stopped, Benetton hammered away from close range before Irne Herbst powered over.

The lock reached between the tackle to just ground the ball.

Smith missed the conversion but added a penalty after 22 minutes to make it 8-3 only for Davies to swiftly respond after a carry by Taine Basham into the 22 and then some slick offloading.

The Dragons soaked up some pressure with strong defence – notably when centre Aneurin Owen came up with a breakdown penalty under his posts – and went into the break in front thanks to a Davies penalty with the final kick of the half.

The visitors wasted a chance to take command when they botched a five-metre lineout and paid the price after 55 minutes when Edoardo Padovani went over from a cross-kick, Smith adding the extras to make it 15-9.

Benetton made it a two-score game through the right boot of Smith in the 71st minute and the Dragons hopes were pretty much ended when replacement hooker Ellis Shipp was yellow-carded for stopping a lineout drive illegally.

Benetton went over for their third try with four minutes to go when they drove over from a lineout, replacement hooker Tomas Baravalle getting on the scoresheet.

The Dragons ended on the front foot to try and at least salvage a bonus point but hooker Taylor Davies, back on because of Shipp’s yellow, knocked on five metres out.

Benetton scorers: tries - Herbst, Padovani, Baravalle; conversion - Smith; penalties - Smith (2).
Dragons scorers: penalties - Davies (3)