Spirited Dragons denied by Lions
Sio Tomkinson and Che Hope scored their first tries for Dragons RFC as the Men of Gwent returned to BKT United Rugby Championship action with a 33-25 defeat to Emirates Lions in South Africa.
After the four-week break for the autumn internationals, Dragons started block two with a difficult away assignment in the altitude of Johannesburg.
Dragons, who had won their last two URC at home to Ospreys and Zebre, dug deep at Emirates Airline Park but were behind at the break despite two penalties from Sam Davies.
Tomkinson struck at the start of the second period to give the visitors renewed hope and James Benjamin sparked action with a score.
Replacement Che Hope then raced over in the final minute, but there was no final twist as the hosts held out for the win.
Dragons now travel to Port Elizabeth to face the DHL Stormers next weekend.
Lions opened the scoring with a fourth minute penalty from Jordan Hendrikse, but the visitors hit back with three from Sam Davies after the home side failed to release on the floor.
Lions looked to put the squeeze on at scrum time and when the referee awarded a penalty it was Hendrikse who slotted a monster kick.
Davies unlocked the home defence with a sweetly delayed pass to send Benjamin away before another neat offload from the playmaker saw Wainwright clear.
Lions lost back row Emmanuel Tshituka to the sin bin because of an illegal tackle on Benjamin and Davies duly slotted the kick to level the scores after 15 breathless minutes.
The home side, despite being a man down, enjoyed their best passage of play at the midpoint of the first half and turned down a kick at the posts to go to the corner. But solid defence from Dragons won a penalty as Lions made a mess of the attempted driving maul.
Lions continued to look a threat as they burst through a gap with Ruben Schoeman rattling up close before spilling in the shadow of the posts. Pressure and territory finally turned into points as Hendrikse slotted a drop goal just before the half hour.
A superb 50:22 from Quan Horn gave Lions another platform and when Ross Moriarty was yellow carded for bringing down the a driving maul it was Ruhan Straeuli who burst over.
Home scrum half Sanele Nohamba looked to be away only for a superb tap tackle from Wainwright to bring him down on halfway.
Hendrikse added three more on the stroke of half-time to take a 19-6 lead at the break.
The game took a twist three minutes into the second half when Lions centre Henco van Wyk was yellow carded after head contact at the ruck on Joe Davies.
As the rain started to fall, Dragons struck immediately with a neat cross field kick finished out wide by Tomkinson for his first try for the club.
Lions went to their driving maul to respond and fly half Hendrikse scored a second home try, despite appeals for a knock on.
Dragons were inches from a sublime team score as they kept the ball alive and broke the home defensive structure, but Moriarty was denied as he knocked on stretching for the line.
Dragons pushed hard with 15 minutes to go as Coleman and Screech were close to scoring before the forwards drove a lineout up close and Benjamin dotted down.
Che Hope came on for his debut – becoming Dragon 322 in the process – but it was Lions who wrapped up the win through replacement JP Smith.
Steff Hughes broke clear in the final minute and sent Hope over to set up a grandstand finish.
04m Hendrikse p 3-0
07m Davies p 3-3
11m Hendrikse p 6-3
15m Davies p 6-6
28m Hendrikse dg 9-6
33m Straeuli t Hendrikse c 16-6
40m Hendrikse p 19-6
45m Tomkinson t 19-11
51m Hendrikse t Hendrikse c 26-11
69m Benjamin t Hanrahan c 26-18
74m JP Smith t Lombard c 33-18
79m Hope t Hanrahan c 33-25
Emirates Lions: Quan Horn, Rabz Maxwane, Henco van Wyk, Marius Louw, Edwill van der Merwe, Jordan Hendrikse, Sanele Nohamba, Sti Sithole, PJ Botha, Ruan Dreyer, Ruben Schoeman, Reinhard Nothnagel, Emmanuel Tshituka, Ruhan Straeuli, Francke Horn
Replacements: Jaco Visagie, JP Smith, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Pieter Jansen van Vuren, Sibusiso Sangweni, Andre Warner, Gianni Lombard, Zander du Plessis
Dragons RFC: Angus O’Brien, David Richards (Williams 61), Steff Hughes, Jack Dixon, Sio Tomkinson, Sam Davies (Hanrahan 55), Lewis Jones (Hope 72); Aki Seiuli (Reynolds 68), James Benjamin (Shipp 77), Lloyd Fairbrother (Coleman 57), Joe Davies (Screech 43-55), Sean Lonsdale (Taylor 62), Aaron Wainwright, Ben Fry (Screech 55), Ross Moriarty
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Josh Reynolds, Chris Coleman, Matthew Screech, Huw Taylor, Che Hope, JJ Hanrahan, Jordan Williams
Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU, 29th league game)