The Dragons produced a fine display to beat Gloucester 18-12 and finally end their run of four defeats against the Cherry and Whites. By David Wilkinson
The home side were missing Welsh starters Dan Lydiate and Will Harries along with squad member Toby Faletau but were boosted by the return of Aled Brew, while James Leadbeater made his first start of the season. Gloucester included England fullback Olly Morgan and Tongan powerhouse Lesley Vainikolo in an impressive side captained by former Newport flanker Peter Buxton.
It was the Dragons who had the better of the opening exchanges showing attacking intent from the start. Gloucester let a kick bounce deep inside their own half allowing the Dragons to regain possession. During a period of concerted pressure they pressed for the first try but unfortunately the ball was lost in contact allowing the visitors to clear.
Gloucester, were themselves soon on the attack testing the Dragons’ defence and were awarded an early penalty which fly half Freddie Burns sent wide.
The visitors continued to press but a loose pass went to ground in the 22 and Aled Brew was first to react. He produced a fine kick chase demonstrating his pace to bring down Olly Morgan, he was then penalised for not releasing and Matthew Jones was successful with the penalty.
Jones scored a second penalty soon after when Lesley Vainikolo inexplicably dropped the ball on his 22,the Dragons pounced and Gloucester were penalised at the resulting breakdown, Jones was once again successful with the three points.
Later in the half errors started to creep in as conditions worsened. However, it was the Dragons who scored the first try of the game and a fine one at that. Gloucester were turned over whilst attacking and Pat Leach found himself with the ball, he charged up field cutting through the Gloucester defence before drawing his man and giving a try scoring pass to Adam Hughes. Hughes went in under the posts allowing a simple conversion for Jones to slot making the score 13-0.
The try seemed to shock Gloucester into life and they came back at the Dragons with great intent. The Dragons were penalised from the kick off, Gloucester kicked to touch and pressed with a strong rolling mall. The home side held them out but Gloucester were awarded a scrum.
Gloucester’s considerable pack power dominated the Dragons and the Cherry and Whites were rewarded with a penalty try following a series of wheeled scrums. Burns was successful with the penalty making the score 13-7 going into the interval.
The start of the second half coincided with an atrocious downpour but both sides were intent on spreading the ball.
Gloucester pressed hard with their pack making inroads into the Dragons defence, the pressure eventually told with Vainikolo touching down in the corner. Burns missed the conversion to leave the scores at 13-12.
Buoyed by their try, Gloucester continued to press but the Dragons’ defence remained firm and the scores stayed at 13-12 until late in the second half.
With just ten minutes left the Dragons enjoyed rare possession and territory inside the Gloucester 22 and were rewarded with a penalty. The Dragons elected to kick to touch and this proved to be an inspired decision.
An organised rolling mall powered toward the line and Robin Sowden-Taylor capped a fine performance with a deserved try. Replacement Steffan Jones went agonisingly close with his conversion as it bounced off the post.
Jones was unsuccessful with a penalty attempt minutes later which would have sealed the game. As the clocked ran into injury time Gloucester pressed hard knowing they faced little time to grab the win.
Nerves were shredded in the stands as Gloucester were awarded a scrum on the five metre line, yet after a series of re-sets a fine pack effort dominated the Gloucester scrum and the ball popped out. The impressive Sowden-Taylor pounced and Steffan Jones kicked the ball dead to bring about the final whistle to the elation of the 5,500 inside Rodney Parade.
The win not only ended the run of defeats against the cross border opponents but also made it three wins in a row for the Men of Gwent.
Dragons (13) 18
Tries: Hughes, Sowden-Taylor.Con: M Jones. Pens: M Jones 2.
Gloucester (7) 12
Tries: Penalty try, Vainikolo. Con: Burns.
Dragons: Pat Leach; Adam Hughes, Rhodri Gomer-Davies, Ashley Smith, Aled Brew; Matthew Jones, James Leadbeater; Hugh Gustafson, Tom Willis (capt), Pat Palmer, Adam Jones, Scott Morgan, Lewis Evans, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Hugo Ellis.
Replacements: Lloyd Burns for Willis (50), Dan Way for Palmer (46), Nigel Hall for Gustafson (66), Rob Sidoli for Morgan (66), Jevon Groves for H. Ellis (61), Gareth Williams for Hughes (67), Tom Cooper for M. Jones (61), Steffan Jones for A. Brew (61).
Gloucester: Olly Morgan; Tom Voyce, Henry Trinder, Jonny May, Lesley Vainikolo; Freddie Burns, Jordi Pasqualin; Alasdair Dickinson, Olivier Azam, Pierre Capdevielle, Dan Williams, Alex Brown, Peter Buxton (capt), Akapusi Qera, Matt Cox.
Replacements: Darren Dawidiuk for Azam (61), Yann Thomas, Rupert Harden for Capdevielle (64), Jim Hamilton for Brown (70), Luke Narraway for Buxton (64), Rory Lawson for Pasqualin (61), Tim Taylor, Charlie Sharples for Morgan (64).
Referee: J Jones (RFU).