Superb Dragons stun Benetton
Dragons returned to Guinness PRO14 action in sensational fashion as they produced an impressive display to battle past Benetton Rugby 26-19 in Northern Italy.
Despite not playing for almost a month, Dragons controlled the opening period and were rewarded with well-worked tries from Ashton Hewitt and Jamie Roberts.
Captain Rhodri Williams showed all his guile to grab a third and only a tight late TMO call - that went against Owen Jenkins - denied Dean Ryan’s men a maximum haul.
The region’s victory was a first at Stadio Comunale di Monigo since 2015 and was built on a composed and accurate performance.
Ryan had called on his team to start rebuilding momentum after the stop-start nature of the campaign to date and this was a building block firmly in the right place.
The only concern will have been a mounting injury list with Lloyd Fairbrother, Ben Fry and Adam Warren all forced off in a bruising opening half hour.
Dragons struck first through the boot of Sam Davies, after the home side strayed offside.
The home response was immediate as the pack rumbled up close to the line before prop Cherif Traore spun out of a tackle to score. Ian Keatley added the extras.
Playmaker Davies added another three, after a powerful driving maul forced Benetton to infringe, and with momentum growing the visitors struck.
A beautiful delayed pass from scrum half Williams blew open a gap in the Italian defence and Hewitt needed no second invitation to glide through and score.
Benetton have become renowned for their ruthless work from five-metres out and the first chance to kick to the corner saw Keatley turn down three points in search of more.
Forward power saw home hooker Hame Faiva – fresh from his hat-trick heroics the week before at Ospreys – the man to dot down under bodies.
Ryan’s men, though, were not finished and this time it was Hewitt who was the architect.
A neat reverse ball from Williams found the wing and he drew men before a perfectly timed pass found Roberts on his shoulder and the big centre stepped into wide open space to score for a 18-14 lead at the break.
Benetton had a try chalked off on the stroke of half-time for obstruction on Sam Davies and, clearly aggrieved, they came out fired up at the start of the second half.
But Dragons weathered the storm and a series of big carries, with Harri Keddie, Matthew Screech and Joe Davies to the fore, forced a penalty that Davies knocked over to extend the lead.
A superb spitting grubber kick in behind from Williams almost sat up kindly for the scrum half to score.
And another penalty, this time for a deliberate knock-on, gave the alert Williams just the room he needed to take a quick tap-and-go and burrow over for a 26-14 lead just before the hour mark.
Davies saw a penalty strike the right-hand post and bounce clear before another effort drifted narrowly wide as Dragons failed to add further daylight.
Wing Jenkins then saw a try in the final minute ruled out by the TMO by the narrowest of margins for a knee in touch.
It was Benetton who had the final word, with Tommaso Menoncello scoring out wide in injury time.
However, it was no more than a consolation as Dragons confidently wrapped up a second league win of the campaign and first on the road this season.
11m Davies p 0-3
14m Traore t Keatley c 7-3
20m Davies p 7-6
23m Hewitt t Davies c 7-13
33m Faiva t Keatley c 14-13
36m Roberts t 14-18
46m Davies p 14-21
55m Williams t 14-26
79m Menoncello t 19-26
Benetton: Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito (Menoncello 56), Joaquin Riera, Tommaso Benvenuti (Braley 64), Leonardo Sarto (Petrozzi 72), Ian Keatley, Dewaldt Duvenage, Cherif Traore (Gallo 46), Hame Faiva (Baravalle 58), Tiziano Pasquali (Nearchou 58), Matteo Canali (Barbini 51), Federico Ruzza, Giovanni Pettinelli (Ruggeri 62), Alberto Sgarbi, Riccardo Favretto
Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Thomas Gallo, Zac Nearchou, Davide Ruggeri, Marco Barbini, Callum Braley, Tommaso Menoncello, Luca Petrozzi.
Dragons: Josh Lewis, Owen Jenkins, Adam Warren (Dixon 31), Jamie Roberts, Ashton Hewitt, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams; Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (Shipp 56), Lloyd Fairbrother (Jarvis 5), Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Ben Fry (Basham 20), Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Conor Maguire, Aaron Jarvis, Joe Maksymiw, Taine Basham, Tavis Knoyle, Jack Dixon, Jared Rosser
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU, 21st competition game)