THE Dragons returned to the Champions Cup with a 24-8 defeat to Wasps at Rodney Parade.

Dean Ryan’s men put in a battling display against last season’s English Premiership runners-up and it was a tighter contest than the scoreboard suggests.

Wasps led 12-3 at half-time thanks to tries by hooker Tom Cruse and Dan Robson but the Dragons were right back in it when wing Jonah Holmes raced over from Jamie Roberts’ delicate pass down the left flank.

However, the men from Coventry secured the win when England forward Jack Willis barged over after 70 minutes and he was swiftly followed over by Wales flanker Thomas Young for the bonus point.

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Here are the talking points from the clash in Newport…

South Wales Argus: LATE CALL: Lewis Evans put in a fine shift after being brought into the sideLATE CALL: Lewis Evans put in a fine shift after being brought into the side

CORONAVIRUS CHAOS

The loss of six players on the eve of the biggest game for years was far from ideal and you are left wondering what might have been.

The Dragons were within a score as the clock hit 70 – what difference could the sextet have made? I’d say a considerable one.

They lost two Wales internationals in Aaron Wainwright and Leon Brown, hard-working Harri Keddie has been in superb form while Ashton Hewitt has been putting in displays to press for a Test call-up.

Lloyd Fairbrother’s absence contributed to a scrum headache (see below) while Matthew Screech would have provided experience and bulk against the Wasps pack.

That’s not to say that the deputies let the side down – wing Jonah Holmes scored a try and impressed while Lewis Evans put in a hell of a shift at flanker in his first game since March, playing 80 minutes for the first time since October, 2019.

That the Dragons earned a shot at a shock win despite all the disruption says a lot for their spirit and organisation.

CHANCE MISSED

Spirit and determination, yes, but this was still an opportunity spurned.

Wasps deserved their win but the game was there for the Dragons only for big moments to go begging. That simply can't happen in the Champions Cup.

The visitors have made a sluggish start to the season, perhaps understandably because of such a short off-season after their narrow Premiership final loss to Exeter.

Wasps weren’t overly impressive and on this evidence won’t make the knockout stages despite an away win.

The Dragons frustrated them and kept in the fight to have their ‘if-only’ moments in a tight game.

There was an attacking scrum in the 22 that ended in a Wasps penalty then at 12-8 down Jared Rosser was so close to winning a foot race to a loose ball and a lineout on the 22 was wasted.

Sam Davies continues to struggle from the tee after missing two penalties and a conversion, precious points that could have changed the dynamic in the closing stages.

The fly-half was 25 per cent against Wasps and is 65 per cent in the PRO14, which is baffling for such a good kicker whose left boot won plenty of games last season.

South Wales Argus: STRUGGLES: Sam Davies had just one success from the kicking teeSTRUGGLES: Sam Davies had just one success from the kicking tee

SCRUM WOES

Dean Ryan’s phone might have buzzed during the game with the message of ‘I told you so’ from Wayne Pivac.

The Dragons suffered the same scrum frustrations with referee Romain Poite that led the Wales boss to slam the performance of the French official in the autumn.

“I wouldn’t want to give you the same headline!” responded Ryan when I asked how he saw the set piece battle.

The Dragons were whistled off the park and it was a very tough evening for Aaron Jarvis, who was shown yellow after racking up the offences.

The former Wales international, who had treatment twice in the opening exchanges, may grumble about a number of the calls but props struggle to change the mind of a ref once they’ve established who they believe is dominant.

Think Phil Vickery versus Tendai Mtawarira in 2009.

It’s here where the coronavirus situation led to problems – the Dragons were clearly reluctant to fling Luke Yendle in for a debut while the game was in the balance.

Perhaps they mulled over bringing on Josh Reynolds, who is only 22, with Brok Harris shifting over.

In the end they left things as they were until Yendle came on with 10 to go.

It’s a problem that will remain this week for Bordeaux when the same individuals are available. The Dragons desperately need the Jarvis who performed well against Benetton and Glasgow.

South Wales Argus: HIT: Joe Maksymiw makes a tackleHIT: Joe Maksymiw makes a tackle

LOCK PARTY

The coronavirus drama deprived us a humdinger of a back-row battle and it also took the focus away from a very brave call by Ryan.

The director of rugby paired teenage lock Ben Carter, fresh from his first start at Glasgow, with Joe Maksymiw, who has made a slow start to life at Rodney Parade.

It was a huge test against two big international beasts in Joe Launchbury and Will Rowlands, both back in club colours after the Autumn Nations Cup.

The Wasps duo racked up the carries and their team fancied their chances with the driving lineout but the Dragons, who got up to challenge well, held firm in that department.

The Dragons pair weren’t overawed and certainly didn’t disgrace themselves against illustrious opposite numbers.

In fact, the athletic and mature Carter gave another reason to get very excited. Rowlands will know that he will have a fight on his hands if and when he joins the Dragons.