THE Dragons were overpowered by the title-chasing Bulls in the United Rugby Championship, and now must lick their wounds for a wooden spoon showdown.

The Rodney Parade club were beaten 31-10 in Newport by the second-placed South Africans, who scored a fourth try at the death to keep up with leaders Leinster.

The Dragons’ attitude and endeavour certainly couldn’t be questioned – they didn’t give away freebies and the Bulls had to work for their win – but they were second best by a distance against bigger boys.

Dai Flanagan’s side dug in and must now show the same resilience and a bit more attacking bite when Zebre head to town on Good Friday.

That needs to be a third URC win of the campaign to stand a chance of not being the side that is propping up the table at the end of the regular season.

The Sharks’ win against Ulster on Saturday afternoon meant that the Dragons started the evening bottom of the pile, while the Scarlets’ last-gasp victory against Benetton stretched their lead in the battle to avoid being Wales’ worst.

Zebre also suffered a heavy home loss to Leinster, meaning both sides will feel the heat ahead of Friday’s showdown.

South Wales Argus: Dragons back Ewan Rosser is smashed by the BullsDragons back Ewan Rosser is smashed by the Bulls (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Dragons made an encouraging start against the Bulls, moving the ball with intent and putting boot to it when nothing was on to keep the South Africans inside their own half.

However, a nice offloading attack from deep led to a 50:22 and a chance for the Bulls to put the pressure on in the 13th minute.

Mpilo Gumede showed power and then went for the line only for diminutive fly-half Will Reed to do a fine job in getting underneath the flanker to earn a goalline drop-out escape.

The Bulls were first on the scoreboard after 16 minutes through the boot of fly-half Chris Smith but the Dragons swiftly responded through full-back Cai Evans entering the second quarter.

Another 50:22 earned the South Africans a big chance in the 24th minute but the Dragons defended with tenacity to escape without damage before Wales hooker Elliot Dee had an early introduction while Brodie Coghlan went for an HIA, which he subsequently failed.

However, the Dragons were reduced to 14 men in the 27th minute when Reed was yellow-carded for kicking the ball out of the scrum-half's hands from an offside position.

The Bulls went to the corner and then, playing with advantage, spread the ball right for Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse to go over in the corner.

Smith converted with the help of the posts to make it 10-3 but that was all that the visitors managed while Reed was in the sin bin.

The Dragons finished the half in the Bulls’ 22 but were driven backwards at the driving lineout and headed to their changing seven points down.

However, the title hopefuls showed their class to stretch clear four minutes after the restart with a cracker.

South Wales Argus: Rhodri Williams on the run for the Dragons against the BullsRhodri Williams on the run for the Dragons against the Bulls (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Three Springbok World Cup winners combined with Canan Moodie put Arendse down the right before Willie le Roux produced a pin-point kick to the other wing.

Devon Williams gathered and produced the assist for Gumede to go over, with Smith’s conversion making it 17-3.

Suddenly there were holes in defence and the Bulls were racking up the yards to put their big units on the front foot.

It looked like try number three had been scored by tighthead Wilco Louw in the 49th minute but it was chalked off for a forward pass by Smith in the build-up.

Flanagan realised the need to reinforcements and introduced Wales star Aaron Wainwright along with fit-again lock Ben Carter and scrum-half Dane Blacker.

Wainwright, fresh from a fine Six Nations, promptly changed the mood with a dynamic burst with ball in hand.

The Dragons were being dominated in terms of possession and territory yet it remained 17-3 past the hour.

With 68 minutes on the clock a penalty gave them a rare foray into South African territory but sadly their driving lineout hit a Bulls wall.

The Dragons were still in with a shot of a losing bonus – or maybe more – and wing Corey Baldwin was sent racing into the 22 after a peach of a pass by Ewan Rosser only for the visitors to scramble, reorganise and win a penalty to clear.

They clinched the win with 75 on the clock when replacement scrum-half Embrose Papier went through some papier mache defence, Smith adding the simple conversion, and they wanted to add a bonus to their four-point haul.

Instead the fourth try of the night came from the Dragons with Steff Hughes putting a grubber kick through for Baldwin to score his first for the club.

Reed converted to make the last play a battle for a bonus, with the hosts playing out time down to 14 men after Dee was sin-binned for slapping the ball out of the scrum-half’s hands at a ruck.

That second daft yellow of the night allowed the Bulls to kick to the corner and power over with a driving lineout, Johan Grobbelaar the scorer of a try that Smith converted.

Dragons: C Evans (J Rosser 61); E Rosser, Westwood, Hughes (captain), Baldwin; Reed, R Williams (Blacker 49); R Jones (Martinez 55), Coghlan (Dee 25), Coleman (Yendle 68), Screech, Nott (Carter 49), Lydiate (Wainwright 49), Lonsdale, Basham (Keddie 55).
Scorers: try – Baldwin; conversion – Reed; penalty – Evans.

Bulls scorers: tries – Arendse, Gumede, Papier, Grobbelaar; conversions – Smith (4); penalty – Smith.

Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland).
Attendance: 4,697.