IT is now eight defeats and counting for the Dragons after they suffered a 26-15 loss to Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in the Guinness PRO14.

The result means the Dragons now find themselves bottom of Conference A and still waiting for their first win since December 5.

There was very little for boss Dean Ryan to savour from a largely insipid performance in Parma, with the return to action of Ross Moriarty and Jonah Holmes’ try brace the rare highlights of an otherwise disappointing evening in Italy.

Wales star Ross Moriarty hadn’t been included in the Dragons’ original matchday squad, but the back-rower found himself in the starting XV when Huw Taylor was ruled out at the 11th hour.

There were five more changes to the side that took to the field against Leinster, with Argentine scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou making his debut alongside half-back partner Sam Davies.

Loosehead Greg Bateman, hooker Ellis Shipp, lock Joe Maksymiw and flanker Harri Keddie, who returned from a head injury to lead the side, were also handed starts.

Former Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts was among the replacements after missing out the previous weekend following the birth of his son.

The visitors made a positive start, coming close to opening the scoring inside the first two minutes, but they were pinged just a metre from the Zebre try line.

It didn’t take much longer for the deadlock to be broken, and Dean Ryan would not have been impressed with the way Zebre took the lead.

Taking the ball from a lineout on the Dragons’ 22, Zebre number eight Renato Giammarioli breezed past loosehead Bateman and evaded Ashton Hewitt to cross under the posts.

It was all too easy for Giammarioli and fly-half Paolo Pescetto added the extras.

Things got worse for the Welsh region just a few minutes later when back-rower Ben Fry found himself in the sin bin for illegally clearing out Zebre centre Enrico Lucchin.

It might have been a red card but the TMO couldn’t find the perfect camera angle to see if Fry’s shoulder made contact with Lucchin’s head.

After missing an attempt at goal, Pescetto made it 10-0 on 16 minutes.

The Dragons then enjoyed some possession on the front foot and were awarded a penalty which Bertranou elected to take quickly.

However, it proved a little too hasty as good counter-rucking saw Zebre clear the danger.

Having worked their way into a promising position again soon after, the Dragons turned the ball over as they looked for a pushover try.

They did, however, get on the scoreboard thanks to a Sam Davies penalty, only for Pescetto to restore Zebre’s 10-point advantage following a missed attempt moments earlier.

Not much was going the Dragons’ way and just before the break they went down to 14 men again.

On this occasion, Moriarty was guilty of not using his arms in a tackle and, despite his protests, he was shown a yellow.

Pescetto ensured Zebre went to the changing rooms 16-3 ahead by landing the resulting penalty.

The Italians could have almost put the game to bed in the minutes after the restart, Jack Dixon’s tackle preventing the hosts from squeezing over in the corner.

Struggling to get any sort of forward thrust, the Dragons’ back three finally managed to link up with 47 minutes on the clock.

Having been starved of possession, Holmes and Jordan Williams linked up to find Ashton Hewitt, who then proceeded to drop the ball under no pressure.

Zebre then underlined their domination with a second try through back-rower Lorenzo Masselli.

It was made thanks to a brilliant one-handed offload by winger Pierre Bruno and Lucchin’s quick hands.

Masselli dotted down in the corner and Pescetto converted from the touchline for a 23-3 lead.

The introduction of Roberts, Josh Lewis and Rhodri Williams off the bench had its desired effect as the visitors found some energy in the last quarter.

They closed the gap to 23-10 courtesy of a Holmes try – the speedster stepped inside his man to touch down after Williams had flung the ball out to the wing – converted by Davies.

And after replacement Antonio Rizzi had made it safe for Zebre with another three-pointer, Holmes did it again, crossing following quick feet and slick hands from Williams and Lewis.

But, as is so often the case with the Dragons, it came far too late.

Zebre: M Biondelli; P Bruno, T Boni (capt), E Lucchin, G Di Giulio (J Elliott 78); P Pescetto (A Rizzi 59), M Violi (N Casilio 55); D Rimpelli (P Buonfiglio 59), O Fabiani (M Ceciliani 59), E Bello (M Nocera 66), S Ortis (M Kearney 59), I Nagle, L Masselli (J Tuivaiti 55), P Leavasa, R Giammarioli.

Dragons: J Williams (J Lewis 63); J Holmes, A Owen, J Dixon (J Roberts 49), A Hewitt; S Davies, G Bertranou (R Williams 59); G Bateman (J Reynolds 59), E Shipp (R Hibbard 59), L Fairbrother, B Carter (J Davies 68), J Maksymiw, H Keddie (capt), B Fry (D Baker 48), R Moriarty. Reps not used: A Jarvis.

Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy).