THE Dragons climbed off the bottom of the United Rugby Championship with a 20-13 win against Zebre in Newport.

The Rodney Parade club went above both Zebre and, at least temporarily, the Sharks thanks to the three-try success and also closed the gap on the Scarlets in the tussle to avoid being Wales’ worst.

It was a must-win game for the Dragons and they did enough to record just their third URC triumph of the campaign, and first against non-Welsh opposition.

The only disappointment was the lack of a killer instinct that allowed Zebre to salvage a losing bonus to be level on points.

The Dragons led 13-6 at the break after scoring a pair of tries through their defence – centre Aneurin Owen intercepting and wing Jared Rosser racing over after a strong counter-ruck.

Hooker Elliot Dee guided a driving lineout over the line early in the second half but a close-range Zebre try by prop Muhamed Hasa made it a needlessly nervous finish.

The reaction on the pitch and in the stands at the final whistle spoke volumes; relief rather than wild celebration.

South Wales Argus: INTERCEPTION: Aneurin Owen scores the Dragons' opener against ZebreINTERCEPTION: Aneurin Owen scores the Dragons' opener against Zebre (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

While it wasn’t the most sparkling of performances – arguably they were better in defeat to the title-chasing Bulls six days earlier and their error count would have been punished by better teams – victory does release some pressure.

The challenge is to build on the win in the five games left in the run-in to ensure Zebre don’t climb back above them, condemning the region to a first ever last-placed finish in the various guises of the URC.

Zebre started brightly and kicked a penalty to the 22 to apply early pressure but the Dragons defended strongly and flanker Sean Lonsdale locked onto the ball to secure a penalty to get out of trouble.

The hosts had their first chance to strike in the 12th minute but failed to make the most of a charge down with Wales wing Rio Dyer wastefully grubber-kicking after the ball was just flung to the wide wing without the defence being committed.

That was followed by the 22 being kicked dead by Zebre, the Dragons knocking on from the scrum and then a box-kick being dropped as the errors racked up in an uninspiring clash.

It was appropriate that a clanger provided the opener in the 18th minute with Gonzalo Garcia flinging a pass to his left that was picked off by Owen, who had the pace to go over from halfway.

The second try followed in the 24th minute and was created by strong defence and good decision-making at the breakdown.

Taine Basham started the counter-ruck just outside the 22 and then Rosser picked up and burst away down the left, having too much gas for both Garcia and full-back Lorenzo Pani.

Full-back Cai Evans failed with a second conversion attempt so the Dragons had to settle for a 10-0 lead and that became 10-3 when Tiff Eden, from over the border in Cheltenham, punished a lineout penalty from the tee after 32 minutes.

Another handling error, a knock-on by Aaron Wainwright after a poor Will Reed pass, swiftly led to an offside but Lorenzo Pani pushed his long-range penalty wide.

It was, however, 10-6 in the 39th minute after Eden slotted a ruck penalty conceded by lock Matthew Screech, who was really putting himself about.

The Dragons finished the half on the front foot after a slick move from a lineout put scrum-half Rhodri Williams through a hole in midfield and racing towards the line.

He was dragged down by a fine covering tackle by hooker Giampietro Ribaldi but Garcia was then pinged for offside and saw yellow.

South Wales Argus: Elliot Dee scored the Dragons' thirdElliot Dee scored the Dragons' third (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Dragons were tempted by going for a third try but settled for three points to make it 13-6, and they needed to make the extra man count at the start of the second half.

They did just that after kicking successive penalties to the 22 and powering over from a driving lineout, Dee rewarded for hitting his man by guiding the drive over.

Evans converted to make it 20-6 and the Dragons went straight on the hunt for the bonus only to be turned over in the Zebre 22 by the 14 men.

However, the hosts lost their momentum and it remained a two-score game approaching the hour when the Italians kicked penalties to the corner to hunt a try to transform their fortunes.

Instead, they were penalised for players leaving the lineout before the ball was thrown just seconds after being warned not to do so by referee Mike Adamson.

The error count from both sides continued to rise and it felt like the Dragons just needed one score of any kind to kill the game.

Instead Zebre had another chance in the 72nd minute only to overthrow a lineout in the 22 and then fail to gather the loose ball.

The Dragons were getting close to the finish line but prop Muhamed Hasa powered over in the 75th minute despite the valiant effort of hard-grafting flanker Lonsdale to give the Italians a lifeline.

Eden converted and it was a seven-point game and a nervy finale with Zebre stretching and stressing the defence only for a costly knock-on 40 metres from the line.

That meant the Dragons were one strong scrum away from victory – and, with debutant Dmitri on at tighthead, they locked it down for Will Reed to boot off.

Dragons: C Evans; R Dyer, S Hughes (captain), A Owen, J Rosser; W Reed, R Williams (D Blacker 52); R Jones (Seiuli 64), E Dee (Benjamin 64), L Yendle (Arhip 52), B Carter (Nott 49), M Screech (Wainwright 74), S Lonsdale, T Basham (Lydiate 64), A Wainwright (Keddie 52).

Scorers: tries – Owen, J Rosser, Dee; conversion – Evans; penalty –Evans Zebre scorers: try – Hasa; conversion – Eden; penalties – Eden (2).

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).

Attendance: 4,726.