By David Wilkinson
The Dragons travelled to Toulouse on Saturday, already out of the Heineken cup but with pride still to play for as they took on the European giants.
Toulouse, the current European champions, boasted a star-studded line up containing a raft of current French internationals. The Dragons were boosted by the return of Danny Lydiate and Luke Charteris to the starting line up.
It was Toulouse that started the game more brightly in the Stade Ernest Wallon and were rewarded with their first score of the game after just 13 minutes.
Captain Thierry Dusautoir crashed over from close range following a period of concerted pressure. Skrella missed with the conversion leaving the score at 5-0. This early try had the raucous crowd on their feet expecting the home side to quickly add to their tally.
However, this was not the case, the Dragon’s defence held firm until conceding just five minutes from the end of the first half, thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from Clement Poitrenaud.
Poitrenaud showed fine pace to scorch past Adam Hughes before sending wing Vincent Clerc in to double the home sides lead. Skrella missed the conversion as scores remained 10-0.
The Dragons refused to let their heads drop and were given the reward they deserved when Jason Tovey scored a penalty two minutes from the break, making scores 10-3.
As the second half got underway, the Dragons showed true resolve as for much of the game they frustrated the home side with their robust defence. The Dragons showed real spirit pushing Toulouse all of the way with Luke Charteris, highlighting the Dragon’s defensive effort with some crunching tackles.
Meanwhile, prop Phil Price enjoyed a fine afternoon in the scrum and it was no surprise when Census Johnston was substituted after being given a torrid time by the young Welshman.
It was only when Dusautoir grabbed his second try of the game was the win assured for the home side. The captain once again drove over from close range to finally end the Dragon’s resistance. Skrella this time converted making the score 17-3.
Despite the score, the Men of Gwent pushed for a try which would have been no more than their effort deserved. A promising Dragon’s attack was halted, only when French fly-half Frederic Michalak was guilty of deliberately knocking a Wayne Evans’ pass down close to the line.
This indiscretion saw the number ten send to the stands but unfortunately the Dragons were unable to press home their numerical advantage in the final minutes of the game.
As referee Peter Fitzgibbon blew his whistle to make the end of the game, the Dragons players were given a standing ovation by the travelling fans in the far corner of the ground, their resilient performance giving the fans plenty to cheer about. Were it not for a couple of moments in the match going against the Dragons, the result could have been very different.
Toulouse (10) 17
Tries: Dusautoir 2, Clerc.Con: Skrela.
Dragons (3) 3
Toulouse: Medard; Clerc, Jauzion, Poitrenaud, Heymans; Skrela, Vergallo; Poux, Lacombe, Johnston, Lamboley, Albacete, Bouilhou, Dustautoir, Sowerby.
Replacements: Fritz for Medard (59), Michalak for Skrela (71), Doussain for Vergallo (71), Human for Poux (50), Servat for Lacombe (50), Montes for Johnston (55), Maestri for Lamboley (59), Nicolas for Dustautoir (71).
Sin Bin: Michalak (76).
Newport-Gwent Dragons: Harries; N Brew, Hughes, Smith, A Brew; Tovey, W Evans; Price, Willis, Castle, Charteris, Morgan, Lydiate, G. Thomas, L Evans.
Replacements: S Jones for Willis (61), Sidoli for Morgan (61).Coombs for Thomas (72), Leach for Smith 75 Palmer for Thomas (77)
Not Used: Robinson, , Leadbeater, M Jones.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Irish RFU)