THE indisciplined Dragons suffered another desperate low in a horror season after becoming the first team to lose to Zebre in a United Rugby Championship basement battle.

Dean Ryan’s men should have condemned the Italians to a 19th defeat of the campaign in a scrappy, low-quality clash but instead shot themselves in the foot once again.

The Dragons were 18-11 in front after an hour thanks to tries by scrum-half Lewis Jones and wing Jared Rosser.

Yet Rosser then saw yellow for daftly dumping an attacker to the ground after a tackle and from the very next play Sam Davies joined him in the sin bin for an equally ridiculous offence.

The fly-half kicked the ball out of an attacker’s hands on the line, an infringement that was made even worse by the awarding of a penalty try.

Zebre, who had the edge in power, didn’t exactly look sharp despite a two-man advantage but still took the spoils thanks to wing Simone Gesi’s try with four minutes to go.

South Wales Argus: Aki Seiuli on the chargeAki Seiuli on the charge

It was another demoralising afternoon for the Dragons in a shocker of a season that has featured just two wins and a draw.

This was a very different URC to the one being played elsewhere, especially in South Africa and Ireland.

It was a poor game between two sides lacking confidence and the Dragons played into Zebre’s hands through their lack of control and accuracy.

Their discipline was horrendous – as it has been for much of the season – and that meant that they ultimately came up short in a stinker of a game that was all about the result.

Injury meant the Dragons were without four Wales forwards from the Scarlets defeat – lock Will Rowlands, tighthead Leon Brown, hooker Elliot Dee and number eight Aaron Wainwright – plus back rower Ross Moriarty.

Ryan has frequently grumbled about a lack of depth yet just three of his starters – stalwart centre Adam Warren, Samoa loosehead Aki Seiuli and on-loan Scarlets hooker Taylor Davies – are not among those confirmed to be on the books for next season.

The Dragons have signed strongly for 2022/23 but the new recruits have work to do if the gap is to be closed to those that are just outside the top eight, let alone the URC’s big dogs.

Two big derbies loom against the Ospreys and Cardiff before a final encounter against the Lions. The pressure is mounting on Ryan after so many spluttering displays.

South Wales Argus: Jack Dixon carriesJack Dixon carries

The game was scrappy from the off as Sam Davies kicked a pair of sweetly-struck penalties from distance only for opposite number Antonio Rizzi to respond both times to make it 6-6.

The Dragons were getting on the wrong side of Irish official Chris Busby and paid the price after 23 minutes when penalties led to a five-metre lineout.

A familiar theme from recent weeks continued when hooker Luca Bigi went over for a 11-6 lead.

The Dragons had a chance for an immediate response when Zebre botched the restart and three points were turned down in favour of going to the corner.

That decision ended up being the wrong one when the hosts soaked up some pressure and emerged with their five-point advantage intact.

The Dragons had another chance to at least chip away at the lead on the stroke of half-time but opted to go to the same corner.

With the clock in the red, it had the potential to be a big psychological moment but it was Zebre that headed to their changing room with a spring in their step.

The visitors opted for front ball but the drive was shunted towards the touchline, forcing the ball to be frantically shifted to Jack Dixon but he was pinged for holding on five metres out.

It was his last act with the in-form centre not returning for the second half and Josh Lewis, a fly-half turned full-back, forced into a midfield role.

The Dragons nearly copped a huge blow seven minutes after the restart when Zebre found space down the left and hammered away from close range.

Captain Harri Keddie spotted a jackal opportunity and clamped onto the ball to earn a penalty to release the pressure.

The Dragons needed a spark and got it through Jones, just seconds after coming off the bench.

The scrum-half reaped the rewards of a superb break by wing Rio Dyer, who cut through the defence and then stayed composed to provide the assist.

Davies’ conversion was wide and it was 11-11 with 53 minutes gone but it was soon 18-11.

There was a knock-on in the build-up by Ben Carter but it was deemed to have gone backwards by Busby and the Dragons made the most of the escape.

Neat handling by Jordan Williams and Taine Basham worked wing Rosser in down the left and he stepped the last man to go over and towards the posts to make the conversion a simple one.

The Dragons were forced into desperate defence to deny Enrico Lucchin after a line break by the centre, with lock Andrea Zambonin then knocking on a yard out.

The visitors were then reduced to 14 men in the 63rd minute when Rosser lifted Luca Andreani in a tackle and dumped him on his back, leading to a yellow.

The Dragons were down to 14, and promptly down to 13 and level.

Zebre back rower Jimmy Tuivaiti peeled off the resulting lineout and the ball was kicked out of the attacker’s hands by Sam Davies.

It was a good spot by the referee but his decision to award a penalty try was more contentious – was a score likely?

However, the Dragons were down to 13 and had to soak up some pressure.

They nearly did more than that when they worked into the 22 but Josh Lewis ignored Dyer to his left and knocked on after a powerful tackle, albeit one that seemed to lack a wrap.

It was level-pegging with nine minutes to go but Zebre worked their way up the field to score the winner through Gesi when playing with penalty advantage.

The conversion was wide but the Dragons couldn’t respond in their latest nightmare.

Zebre scorers: tries - Bigi, penalty try; penalties - Rizzi (2).

Dragons scorers: tries - L Jones, Rosser; conversion - Davies; penalties - Davies (2)