JUDGEMENT calls are tougher in an Anglo-Welsh Cup tie, it's not as simple as glancing to the scoreboard when the clock hits 80.

In a 41-7 defeat to Northampton in November there were plenty of positives against a pretty experienced Saints side yet the following week there was slight disappointment that the Dragons had to resort to their tight game with what was close to a first XV versus a very youthful Scarlets in Newport.

On Saturday the Dragons were reflecting on a missed opportunity to impress as they returned west from north London after a 40-21 defeat.

Saracens presented a chance to make an impression; the European champions possess great depth and systems that ensure the next generation come through hungry and well-drilled but the names on the teamsheet meant they were vulnerable.

That meant the Rodney Parade region had to at least give them a bloody nose and make sure the game was in the balance.

A theme from the management team all season has been about "staying in the fight" yet it was done and dusted as head coach Bernard Jackman, adopting a more hands-off approach for the development competition like most bosses, stood in the rain on the touchline in the opening stages of the second half.

There were some positives.

Full-back Zane Kirchner (at fly-half), blindside/number eight Harrison Keddie (at openside) and lock/blindside Max Williams all returned from shoulder injuries after being out since September while there were debuts for wings Rio Dyer and Calvin Wellington, lock Henri Williams and scrum-half Callum Morris, plus a second outing for centre Jarryd Sage.

That was about it on a frustrating afternoon in grim conditions in a game played in front of a sparse crowd.

There is always mitigation in the Anglo-Welsh Cup because teams have more of a mishmash feel to them.

Senior players are almost in a no-win situation, told to lead the way in a XV featuring a glut of new combinations. Perform well and it's just what you expect of them, perform poorly and it stands out.

There are those individuals who are included despite knowing they won't be at the club in the following season then the youngsters, who mix mistakes with signs of their promise.

But the hope for the management team is that their charges play with a bit of enjoyment – 'express themselves' is the coaching parlance – and provide a few selection headaches for the return of the Guinness PRO14.

Sadly lock Rynard Landman, on his 103rd Dragons appearance, had one of his frustrating off days while centre Sam Beard looked a little rusty and didn't really grasp his chance in the absence of Jack Dixon, Adam Warren and the nearly fit-again Tyler Morgan.

Loosehead Sam Hobbs limped off while tighthead Nicky Thomas only lasted into the opening stages of the second half after his lack of mobility stood out like a sore thumb. Disappointingly the prop looks as big as when he arrived six weeks ago.

The Dragons had flashes of inspiration yet their three tries all came from close range and they shipped scores in batches, failing to respond to their line being crossed by striking back next on the scoreboard.

The opening exchanges were scrappy from both sides with fly-half Max Malins booting Sarries into a 3-0 lead before trading misses from the tee with opposite number Kirchner.

The Dragons edged in front when centre Connor Edwards burst into the 22 after running a nice angle and then captain Keddie, after 23 phases according to coach Rhys Thomas after the game, barged over for a try that Kirchner converted superbly.

However, Saracens were soon back in front 15-7 thanks to the first of their quickfire braces with lock Mark Flanagan finishing off after a burst down the left by Rotimi Segun and then a breakaway score by centre Nick Tompkins.

That should have been the scoreline at the break only for the Dragons to inexplicably concede from the final play of the half when they had won their own scrum inside their 22.

Rather than teenage scrum-half Dan Babos booting the ball dead, number eight Robson Blake ran the ball and was turned over for wing Segun to make it 20-7.

That score was followed by another poor one in the opening minute of the second half when poor defence allowed impressive number eight Sione Vailanu to burst through and draw the final man for full-back Matt Gallagher to canter over for a bonus-point try.

Malins converted and then knocked over another penalty as the game drifted due to the inevitability of who would win.

The Dragons did get their second try of the afternoon when hooker Liam Belcher barged over after hitting his man at a driving lineout, Kirchner converting via the bright orange left post for 30-14.

But the scoreboard was shifted along another 10 points (thankfully Malins' radar was off in tricky conditions) by another quickfire brace by flanker Sean Reffell from close range in the 70th minute and then scrum-half Tom Whiteley through some porous defence.

The Dragons had the final say through tighthead Lloyd Fairbrother from a yard, his fifth try of the season, but 40-21 didn't mask a disappointing trip to north London.

It means that the region have no chance of making the semi-finals of the tournament but Jackman will demand more on their return to Newport soil for Friday's finale against Worcester.

Saracens: M Gallagher, O Morris (N Stirzaker 51), N Tompkins, R Bird-Tulloch (D Morris 55), R Segun, M Malins (A Gliksten 74), T Whiteley, H Thompson (T Lamositele 51), S Spurling (T McElroy 68), K Longbottom (J Figallo 63), D Day, M Flanagan, J Nay (S Reffell 56), B Earl (captain), S Vailanu.

Scorers: tries – M Flanagan, N Tompkins, R Segun, M Gallagher, S Reffell, T Whiteley; conversions – M Malins (2); penalties – M Malins (2)

Dragons: C Meyer, P Howard (C Wellington 43), S Beard (J Sage 55), C Edwards, R Dyer, Z Kirchner, D Babos (C Morris 68), S Hobbs (G Ellis 63), L Belcher (E Shipp 63), N Thomas (L Fairbrother 49), M Williams (H Williams 59), R Landman, J Sheekey (A Wainwright 14), H Keddie (captain), R Blake.

Scorers: tries – H Keddie, R Blake, L Fairbrother; conversions – Z Kirchner (3)

Referee: Simon Harding (RFU)

Attendance: 6,432