DRAGONS were far from perfect here, but they were still good enough to get their Guinness PRO14 campaign up and running with a 26-18 bonus-point win over Zebre.

Given the Italians had emerged 39-12 victors on their last visit to Newport this was a decent night for Dean Ryan’s men. Still, their director of rugby will know his side can do better.

The men from Rodney Parade must cut out basic errors and the sort of lackadaisical rugby which allowed Zebre to turn around in touch despite being dominated for the opening 40. 

In the end the Dragons took maximum points with experienced centre Jamie Roberts standing out as he combined his usual brute force with some dexterous hands in a fine display.

Roberts scored his first Dragons try and also made two for Jordan Williams with Elliot Dee also crossing. Had Sam Davies not had an off night with the boot – he kicked just two penalties – the margin of victory would have been more convincing.

Dragons welcomed back Wales tighthead prop Leon Brown and full-back Williams after both missed the opening defeat at Leinster. Zebre captain Giulio Bisegni made his 100th appearance.

To say the opening 10 minutes was scrappy would be kind.

In truth it was downright poor as both sides struggled to retain the ball and when the Dragons did have a promising attack, Davies’ pass to Ashton Hewitt hit the deck. Zebre’s line-out also went awry.

Dragons moved ahead from their first real pressure. Their set-piece went well and a trademark carry from Roberts laid the platform. When the ball was recycled Williams didn’t need Hewitt outside him as he finished easily. Davies couldn’t add the conversion.

Zebre responded with a period of pressure, but the home defence held out and a strong scrum allowed them to clear their lines.

In Dublin in round one Ryan’s side struggled with their attacking line-outs close to the opposition line and Dee lost another key throw in a vital position on the 20 minute mark.

It was hardly the best way for Dee to show Wales head coach Wayne Pivac he was wrong to exclude him from his autumn squad this week.

A great chase from Nick Tompkins had given the Dragons their field position, but their failure to capitalise mattered little as they soon made it two.

Tompkins’ pass to Williams was perfect and he broke clear, ignoring the free Jonah Holmes outside him. Williams was stopped short, but Zebre were all over the place and Roberts crashed over.

Davies’ kick clipped a post and went wide.

Carlo Canna popped over a simple three points to put Zebre on the board, but Dragons drove over the Italian line for a third try which Irish referee Chris Busby – on his PRO14 debut – sent upstairs.

Television match official Sean Brickell gave the score with Dee the man to claim it.
Dragons looked to make it four just before the break, but they turned the ball over before Dee inexplicably chose to kick ahead instead of carrying.

He paid the ultimate price as even with 14 men following Mattia Bellini’s yellow card for persistent away infringement, Zebre went to the break only five points behind.

After Dee gave away possession, Zebre hacked clear and centre Federico Mori put boot to ball before collecting and diving across the line. Canna converted.

Canna started the second half as he ended the first with a kick at goal, his three points coming from range following an impressive Zebre forward surge.

Dragons finally got their fourth and bonus-point score with a second from Williams, but it was that man Roberts who again did the damage as he this time produced a lovely offload.

Davies struck the post with his conversion as prop Greg Bateman – a summer signing after being released by Leicester Tigers – came on for his debut. Davies was successful with his first kick of the evening in the 65th minute and the penalty took him to 1,000 career points.

He added another in the 73rd minute, but made an awful decision from the restart when he advised his captain Rhodri Williams to let the ball run dead and had to dab down in emergency fashion.

Zebre converted their late pressure into points with a try from Bisegni. It wasn’t enough to earn a losing bonus point, but it did leave the Dragons sweating when the opposite should have been true.

Dragons: J Williams; Holmes, Tompkins, Roberts, Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (capt); Harris (Bateman 50), Dee (Hibbard 59), Brown (Jarvis 69), J Davies (Maksymiw 69), Screech, Keddie (Fry 69), Basham, Moriarty

Replacements not used: Knoyle, Lewis, Warren


Tries: J Williams 11, 48, Roberts 24, Dee 35

Pens: S Davies 65, 73

Zebre: Trulla; Laloifi, Bisegni (capt), Mori, Bellini; Canna (70), Palazzani (Casilio 40); Rimpelli (Fischetti 40), Manfredi (Ceciliani 55) (Manfredi 70), Bello (Zilocchi 50), Krumov, Nagle, Mbanda (Kearney 52), Meyer, Sisi (Massselli 71)

Replacement not used: Stoian


Tries: Mori 40+3, Bisegni 78

Con: Canna 40 + 4

Pens: Canna 31, 43

Yellow card: Bellini 40+1

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)

Dragons star man: Jamie Roberts