IT wasn’t convincing but the Dragons got off to a perfect start in the European Challenge Cup with a late, late, late show to beat Oyonnax 24-7.

Dai Flanagan’s men turned around for the second half happy to be just 7-0 down after playing into a strong wind.

They struck soon after the restart through wing Ashton Hewitt with fly-half Will Reed adding the tricky conversion but failed to build on that score.

The Dragons, bottom of the URC and low on confidence, lacked a killer instinct but kept plugging away and remarkably not only won but won with a four-try bonus.

Lock Joe Davies scored his first for the club on his 120th appearance from close range in the 74th minute then Wales wing Rio Dyer scored a rapid double.

Here are some talking points from a remarkable encounter at Rodney Parade…

South Wales Argus: JOY: Aaron Wainwright (left) celebrates after Joe Davies' winner for the DragonsJOY: Aaron Wainwright (left) celebrates after Joe Davies' winner for the Dragons (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


The Dragons are blessed with some terrific back row forwards – Aaron Wainwright, Taine Basham and Dan Lydiate went to the World Cup, Ollie Griffiths would have won more Wales caps were it not for injury, Harri Keddie is well on his way to being a club great, talented Ryan Woodman enhanced his reputation with a huge effort against Oyonnax.

All that talent on the books and Aaron Wainwright, like Taulupe Faletau before him, still looks a class above.

His headline stats don’t look sensational from Saturday night - 12 carries for 36 metres, 12 tackles – but this was a big performance by a big player.

Injury-permitting, the 26-year-old from Bassaleg will bring up his club century in January.

He is currently on 97 appearances since his first off the bench in Cardiff in 2017, which is a remarkable record given that in that period he has also played in 43 Tests (plus uncapped internationals for Wales and twice for the Barbarians).

Wainwright has hit double figures for the Dragons in all but one season, and that was because of the Coronavirus pandemic denying him games.

He has come back from World Cup duty and put his body on the line with five big shifts against Leinster, the Ospreys, Sharks, Lions and Oyonnax, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s left at home rather than taken to Pau on Saturday (with Basham back from suspension).

Wainwright has long been a remarkable talent but now he feels like the main man of the team.

He is both a grafter and flashy. He carries hard but he also stands up with some big shots against heavy-hitters.

The number eight can leave an outside back scrambling with a sprint in a wide channel or wrestle with a hefty lock to slow the speed of ball.

Faletau was the man who could make a difference for the Dragons, now it is Wainwright.

When a big moment or momentum-shifter is needed, eyes turn their way.

Taulupe remains the greatest Dragon that I have seen but Aaron is becoming a serious contender for that title – and the club have to pull out all the stops to prevent him heading off next summer like his Wales teammate did for Bath in 2016.

South Wales Argus: SMILES: Rio Dyer dots down for the Dragons' third try against OyonnaxSMILES: Rio Dyer dots down for the Dragons' third try against Oyonnax (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Let’s bask in a five-pointer for the first time since last October but also recognise that the Dragons made very, very hard work of this.

A lack of confidence made it very possible that they would have to settle for two points, which would have done huge damage to their hopes of making the knockout stages, let alone earning a home tie.

Alors, merci Maxime Salles, the Oyonnax full-back who failed to gather a late kick then produced a panicky clarance that set the Dragons up for Davies’ winner.

They had looked like a side who had forgotten how to go on and win a game for much of the second half when the wind was at their backs and they had the edge.

Hopefully the confidence from that win can bring a bit more composure in the festive derbies at Cardiff on Boxing Day and against the Scarlets in Newport on New Year’s Day.

Let's not forget, the failure to beat Pau when they had a golden opportunity last season in Newport proved to be costly.

South Wales Argus: THREAT: Rhodri Williams spreads the ball to Will Reed, who kept plugging away for the DragonsTHREAT: Rhodri Williams spreads the ball to Will Reed, who kept plugging away for the Dragons (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


These are the sort of experiences that will do Will Reed the power of good with the youngster able to reflect on a bizarre night as a winner.

The 22-year-old was meant to be sharing the 10 jersey with Angus O’Brien but a fractured forearm means that Reed is on his own with full-back Cai Evans, who missed the Oyonnax game with concussion, his back-up.

The fly-half is a serious talent but will have some big learnings from the victory.

He kicked a goal line drop-out dead gave Oyonnax a five-metre scrum that ultimately led to their try. That was a mistake but to then put the following restart out on the full was inexcusable.

Reed missed twice from the tee when the scores were level – that happens in such conditions – and he also wasn’t as brave as he could have been with the wind as his back kicking penalties out of hand.

However, the most encouraging thing about his display was that he kept taking the ball to the line despite copping some big shots.

Reed is a wonderful playmaker who has just 26 appearances to his name and we’ve got to expect the rough with the smooth.

Mind you, the return of Evans will be timely to take kicking, both at goal and line, off his mind and allow him to focus on running the game.

South Wales Argus: RELIEF: The Dragons after beating OyonnaxRELIEF: The Dragons after beating Oyonnax (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


The Dragons head to the Stade de Hameau with five points on the board and aiming to repeat last season’s success in France.

Pau are a very different side and a very different squad; they are fourth in the Top 14 and, after taking their second string to Durban, are likely to go hard for a home win to set them up for a domestic scrap with Clermont.

The late show against Oyonnax means the pressure is off to an extent – even leaving with a bonus would be nice ahead of the January trip to Zebre Parma and home finale against the Sharks.

The Dragons have a spring in their step and need a performance to set up their preparation for the derby double-header.

They failed to back up the win against the Ospreys and can't have a repeat.

Dragons: J Williams; Dyer, Tomkinson (Ackerman 68), S Hughes (captain), Hewitt (Baldwin 77); Reed, R Williams (Blacker 75); R Jones (Seiuli 65), Dee (Coghlan 75), Fairbrother (Coleman 65), J Davies (Lonsdale 75), Nott, Woodman, Keddie (Young 77), Wainwright.

Scorers: tries – Hewitt, Davies, Dyer (2) ; conversions – Reed (2).

Oyonnax scorer: try – Treilles; conversion – Soulan.

Referee: Eoghan Cross.

Attendance: 3,057.