THE Dragons need to go up another level to win Friday's United Rugby Championship battle at the basement with Zebre Parma despite a spirited showing against the title-chasing Bulls, says boss Dai Flanagan.

The Rodney Parade club suffered a 31-10 defeat to the South Africans in Newport on Saturday night, but the visitors didn’t have things all their own way.

The Bulls were more than good value for their win but only rubber-stamped the success late on, then grabbed a bonus with the clock in the red.

The Dragons, whose try was scored by wing Corey Baldwin to give them a sniff of a consolation bonus, now have a swift turnaround for a clash with one of their peers.

Zebre visit Newport on Friday in what is a pivotal game in the battle to avoid bottom spot in the URC with six fixtures to go.

South Wales Argus: Dragons boss Dai FlanaganDragons boss Dai Flanagan (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“We need to be more accurate because Zebre are a good team and will cause us different challenges to the Bulls,” said Flanagan.

“We can’t rest, if we play exactly like that them we probably lose, so we need to be better again.

“We’ve got to get our bodies right and we won’t really look too much at Zebre, we want to work hard on ourselves.”

The Sharks’ win against Ulster meant that the Dragons, whose only league wins have come in Newport against the west Wales pair of the Ospreys and Scarlets, slipped to 16th.

“It’s not pretty but we’ve sat down there all season,” said Flanagan. “We missed two massive opportunities to win against Edinburgh and Cardiff at the start of the season, we knew that would bite us in the backside.”

Flanagan was livid at the decision to not award a deliberate knock-on against Willie le Roux with eight minutes to go, the score at 17-3 and the Dragons attacking in the 22.

“I felt we deserved more,” said Flanagan. “There are some big decisions that didn’t go our way.”

Nonetheless, the Dragons dug deep against a Bulls side who are challenging Leinster for top spot.

They trailed 10-3 at the break and then had to gather their composure when the South Africans scored a cracker early in the second half and threatened to run riot.

South Wales Argus: Embrose Papier clinched victory late on for the BullsEmbrose Papier clinched victory late on for the Bulls (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“We executed our plan but they aren’t near the top of the table for nothing with the way that they execute and the physically they bring,” said Flanagan.

“We managed to contain them in their half a lot in the first half but then they had a spell in the second half when they were unbelievable with their offloads. We showed composure to rein it in and manage the game well.

“We didn’t give them multiple set pieces so that they could build momentum, we kept the ball on and moved it whether in our 22 or their 22, although we would have liked to have scored more tries.”

The Dragons opted to have six forwards on their bench to combat the Bulls’ power and the boss was thrilled by the performances of the back five of his pack.

“We have some depth here, it’s nice having so many bodies fit,” said Flanagan.

“Ben Carter was excellent when he came on, Matthew Screech and George Nott were good, especially in the first half, Sean Lonsdale is so underestimated and is a workhorse.

“Taine Basham had another game he can be really proud of and it was a big step forward because he was a real threat again and was breaking tackles. You can see that he has trained hard with Wales.

“Dan Lydiate was superb, Harrison Keddie came on and added to us and Aaron Wainwright did things when he came on. If we want to be serious going forward then we need that depth.”

Carter made his return after four months out with a hamstring strain and will be a big figure for the Dragons in the run-in, then possibly on the international stage this summer.

“We don’t produce many out-and-out second rows in Wales but Ben is one of them,” said Flanagan about the 11-times capped forward.

“The sky is the limit for him and I expect him to kick on from here, go on the summer tour with Wales and be a massive success. That’s his challenge now.”