Dragons defeated by Bulls in Pretoria
Dragons suffered defeat in the opening game of the South African tour as a powerful Vodacom Bulls outfit surged to a 55-20 United Rugby Championship (URC) victory at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.
The Men of Gwent showed plenty of battling qualities in humid and testing conditions in Pretoria and scored tries through Rio Dyer, Jared Rosser and Sam Davies. But Dragons always faced a huge challenge against the impressive Bulls.
The South African giants went into the game in a rich vein of form - just one defeat in six in the URC and undefeated against Welsh opposition.
And the ruthless hosts wrapped up a bonus point by the break to maintain their growing end-of-season play-off hopes.
Dean Ryan’s men, though, enjoyed long spells of pressure and were deservedly rewarded with tries from Dyer and Rosser either side of the break and Davies in the second half. They will feel there could have been even more.
Bulls forced early territory and smashed over from close range on five minutes, with big Number Eight Arno Botha the man to dot down.
A superb penalty win by Ollie Griffiths, after Bulls held on the tackle, gave Dragons a first attacking platform, but a stray lineout lost the chance.
Down the other end, Bulls were in no mood to pass up opportunities as a penalty from Chris Smith sent them 10-0 up after as many minutes.
Jordan Williams forced the home side back with a grubber to the corner, but after another period of sustained pressure the penalty went against the visitors on the tryline.
Elliot Dee produced an outstanding tackle to drag speedster Madosh Tambwe into touch before Ben Fry, Jack Dixon and Griffiths combined to blow a hole in midfield.
Invention was finally rewarded as Sam Davies slotted a penalty just after the midpoint of the first half.
However, Bulls soon struck for a second time after a pre-planned lineout move made yards before direct running saw centre Lionel Mapoe dive over.
The hosts grabbed a third when a high kick bounced for Embrose Papier who spotted a gap down the wing and sent Kurt-Lee Arendse over.
The bonus point was secured two minutes before the break with home hooker Johan Grobbelaar the beneficiary of a huge driving maul.
Dragons, though, did strike a first blow in first half injury time, as a slick backs move saw Davies fire a ball back inside to send Dyer through a gap for the try.
It got better seconds after the restart as Davies intercepted in midfield and fed Warren who raced up close before popping the final pass to Rosser.
Dragons lost Griffiths to injury, replaced by the returning Lennon Greggains, and went further behind when Arendse broke away.
The Men of Gwent, though, were not done with Jordan Williams darting down the right flank and feeding Davies to score a third try.
Home skipper Marcell Coetzee powered over before the hour mark, as the Bulls again flexed their muscles, before Mapoe took them close to the half century.
Replacement Zak Burger was then sent over by the marauding Gerhard Steenekamp to hit that milestone ten minutes from time.
Dragons did threaten a late bonus point, Rhodri Williams dancing into space, but his offload failed to find support runners, while Adam Warren was inches from picking off a floated pass.
There was also late delight for young fly half Will Reed as he made his debut with seven minutes left – becoming Dragon No. #311 in the process.
05m Botha t Smith c 7-0
10m Smith p 10-0
24m Davies p 10-3
26m Mapoe t Smith c 17-3
28m Arendse t Smith c 24-3
38m Grobbelaar t Smith c 31-3
40m Dyer t 31-8
42m Rosser t 31-13
48m Arendse t 36-13
53m Davies t Davies c 36-20
55m Coetzee t Smith c 43-20
65m Mapoe t 48-20
69m Burger t Steyn c 55-20
Vodacom Bulls: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Chris Smith, Embrose Papier; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Jacques van Rooyen, Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee, Cyle Brink, Arno Botha
Replacements: Joe van Zyl, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Reinhardt Ludwig, WJ Steenkamp; Zak Burger, Morne Steyn, Cornal Hendricks
Dragons: Jordan Williams (I. Davies 67), Jared Rosser, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Rio Dyer, Sam Davies (Reed 73), Gonzalo Bertranou (Williams 57); Aki Seuili (Reynolds 57), Elliot Dee (T. Davies 64), Chris Coleman (Brown 40), Huw Taylor, Ben Carter (J. Davies 40), Harri Keddie, Ben Fry, Ollie Griffiths (Greggains 46)
Replacements: Taylor Davies, Josh Reynolds, Leon Brown, Joe Davies, Lennon Greggains, Rhodri Williams, Will Reed, Ioan Davies
Referee: Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU, 58th competition game)