ITALY proved to be a happy hunting ground again for the Dragons as they returned to action in the Guinness PRO14 with a precious away win at Benetton.

Last season they ended a four-year league away drought with success at Zebre and this time they battled hard for a 26-19 triumph in Treviso.

The Dragons led 18-14 at half-time thanks to tries by Ashton Hewitt and Jamie Roberts, that despite losing prop Lloyd Fairbrother, flanker Ben Fry and centre Adam Warren to injury.

A cunning effort by captain and scrum-half Rhodri Williams earned a 26-14 lead that they held into the final quarter but Sam Davies’ struggles from the tee continued to deny the visitors a routine finish.

Nonetheless, they dug deep against an increasingly manic Benetton to complete a Welsh clean sweep at the start of the 2020/21 season, and came agonisingly close to a fourth try at the death before Benetton scrambled for their own consolation bonus.

South Wales Argus: Ollie Griffiths moves the ball from the back of a scrumOllie Griffiths moves the ball from the back of a scrum

It was a fine return to action for the Dragons after four weeks off because of a coronavirus outbreak.

Director of rugby Ryan will hope that, after a tough schedule that pitted them against the big three Irish provinces, the win provides a platform for the tricky fixtures on the horizon.

They travel to Glasgow next weekend before the Champions Cup and derby encounters, so more of the tenacity they showed is a minimum requirement against much stronger opposition.

They were direct, abrasive, well-drilled and, for the most part, shrewd. The set piece was strong while flanker Harrison Keddie stood out in terms of grunt and Hewitt starred in terms of dazzle.

The Dragons suffered an early blow when Fairbrother was forced off, prompting former Wales prop Aaron Jarvis to come off the bench at tighthead.

It was a cagey opening but the visitors were in front when Davies made no mistake from the tee.

However, they were swiftly behind after being sloppy from the restart to invite pressure that ended with the hefty prop Cherif Traore powering over for a try that Ian Keatley converted.

The Dragons responded through the boot of Davies to cut the gap to 7-6 after a quarter and then, despite a second injury blow with Fry forced off with an elbow injury that saw the early introduction of Taine Basham, they were soon back in front.

South Wales Argus: CLEARANCE: Jamie Roberts puts boot to ballCLEARANCE: Jamie Roberts puts boot to ball

They had penalty advantage but kept playing for Hewitt to come off the left wing to take a short ball from a ruck.

The Italian defence tackled decoy runner Owen Jenkins rather than the in-form speedster and once in motion he scorched past the last man for a try that Davies converted.

The Dragons then had to show their defensive steel after Benetton kicked successive penalties to the corner, winning a turnover five metres out that was booted clear to release the pressure.

There was a third injury when Warren was helped off with Jack Dixon coming on but the centre could do nothing about a second Benetton try, the forwards once again getting over the line.

A penalty was kicked to the corner and hooker Hame Faiva, fresh from a hat-trick against the Ospreys, barged over despite the best effort of scrum-half Rhodri Williams.

Keatley converted but the Dragons hit back impressively with Hewitt this time providing the assist, bursting through before drawing the last man for ex-Wales and Lions powerhouse Roberts to go over for his third try for the region.

Benetton thought they had regained the lead just before the break when Leonardo Sarto was put in down the left but the try was chalked off for blocking.

The Dragons had been blown away by Leinster in Dublin and Ulster in Belfast but this time they headed to their changing room with a 18-14 advantage.

They resumed impressively for an attack that mixed direct running with enterprise to win a penalty that Davies knocked between the posts.

South Wales Argus: SAVVY: Rhodri Williams puts Benetton back in their territorySAVVY: Rhodri Williams puts Benetton back in their territory

The Dragons were savvy, playing in the Benetton half and forcing their hosts into errors.

That paid off when a penalty was kicked to the corner and then captain Rhodri Williams punished another offence with a quick tap to dart over.

It was 26-14 with 55 minutes gone but Benetton remained a threat; Ryan’s men could not afford to give them a sniff.

Simplicity and discipline was order of the day rather than hunting the four-try bonus, and a powerful scrum earned a penalty that gave Davies the chance to apply a killer blow only for his long-range effort to hit the right post.

The left-footer had another chance after 72 minutes thanks to brilliant breakdown work by the impressive Dixon and this time it was wide.

Benetton’s errors denied them the chance to make it a nervy finale and the Dragons came agonisingly close to their bonus only for Owen Jenkins’ flying finish in the corner to be chalked off after TMO consultation, the winger’s leg just hitting the line.

It was an Italian speedster that had the final say when Tommaso Menoncello dashed over with the clock in the red but that didn’t ruin a good night for the Dragons.

Benetton scorers: tries – C Traore, H Faiva, T Menoncello; conversions – I Keatley (2)

Dragons scorers: tries – A Hewitt, J Roberts, R Williams; conversions – S Davies; penalties – S Davies (3)