Dragons defeated on home soil
Dragons suffered a first home defeat since November as they crashed to a 37-25 loss to a clinical Benetton side in the Guinness PRO14 at Rodney Parade on Friday evening, writes Ethan Harris.
Dragons fell a try down early after some slick hands and strong support running from the Italian visitors. Three offloads down the right-hand side set Luca Sperandio in motion who galloped his way over the line, with the boot of Ian Keatley converting the extras.
It was a tough start for Dragons, a penalty in their own 22 gave strong position for Benetton of which they took full advantage, Tomos Baravalle barrelling through from a line-out drive that was calmly converted by Keatley.
It was a game of firsts for Jacob Botica, as the fly-half slotted a penalty soon after the restart to put the Dragons on the board just before a quarter of the game had passed.
In his first start in the Guinness Pro14 the New Zealander looked to put his stamp on the game with more points on his tally four minutes later, a Benetton offside allowing the half-back to put the deficit at eight.
Looking to make it three from three and with confidence flowing, the number 10 gave it another go from just inside the halfway line but could only watch in agony as it slammed against the post.
Dragons defence stood firm amidst an almost immediate reply, with Sperandio lurking for his second try of the game Josh Reynolds and Lloyd Fairbrother bundled the fullback into touch to keep the Italian outfit at bay.
Keatley kept Benetton out of reach with his boot, a penalty just inside the 22 restoring an 11-point lead for the visitors, but it would not last heading into the break.
Quick hands from Matthew Screech set up Josh Reynolds to break the Benetton line, who despite being tackled produced a stunning offload to Rhodri Williams that gave the Dragons their first try of the game, with Botica tacking on two more.
Dragons momentum heading into the break withered away almost instantly, with missed tackles giving Angelo Esposito enough room to pounce over the line and restore the 11-point difference from the restart with Keatley’s conversion.
A tackle deemed dangerous for use of the shoulder without arms sent Harrison Keddie into the sin-bin for Dragons, whose comeback efforts became a lot more difficult.
Instead a strong defensive effort allowed only three points despite the man-disadvantage with Benetton breathing down the neck of the try line for the duration of the 10 minutes.
With a little over 10 minutes to go, Keatley continued his 100% record from the tee with another penalty to push Benetton’s tally to 30, but Dragons mustered a reply.
Strong pressure from Ashton Hewitt forced Esposito into an error before he could be pushed into touch, with the winger deciding to keep the ball in play allowing for Will Talbot-Davies to collect the scraps, replacement Arwel Robson put the deficit at 10.
Hame Faiva crushed any hopes of a Dragons comeback moments later, with Keatley putting the game beyond any doubt after a conversion sailed straight through the sticks.
A late try from Elliot Dee clawed back the deficit with Robson slipping his conversion left of the posts, Dragons must regroup for their next game against Ulster in Belfast.
04m Sperandio t Keatley c 0-7
14m Baravalle t Keatley c 0-14
19m Botica p 3-14
24m Botica p 6-14
35m Keatley p 6-17
40m Williams t Botica c 13-17
41m Esposito t Keatley c 13-24
59m Keatley p 13-27
69m Keatley p 13-30
70m Talbot-Davies t Robson c 20-30
75m Faiva t Keatley c 20-37
80m Dee t 25-37
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies, Jared Rosser, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon (Edwards 73), Ashton Hewitt, Jacob Botica (Robson 69), Rhodri Williams (Baldwin 70); Josh Reynolds (Maguire 69), Ellis Shipp (Dee 40), Lloyd Fairbrother (Coleman 70), Joe Davies (Nansen 60), Matthew Screech, Harrison Keddie (Evans 60), Taine Basham, Ollie Griffiths
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Conor Maguire, Chris Coleman, Brandon Nansen, Lewis Evans, Luke Baldwin, Arwel Robson, Connor Edwards
Benetton Rugby: Luca Sperandio, Angelo Esposito (McKinley 73), Ignacio Brex, Marco Zanon (Riera 67), Monty Ioane, Ian Keatley, Charly Trussardi (Petrozzi 41); Nicola Quaglio (Zani 51), Tomas Baravalle (Faiva 51), Filippo Alongi (Di Stefano 78), Irné Herbst (Fuser 78), Eli Snyman, Michele Lamaro (Pettinelli 67), Federico Ruzza, Toa Halafihi
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Federico Zani, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Marco Fuser, Giovanni Pettinelli, Luca Petrozzi, Ian McKinley, Joaquin Riera
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)