What a win! Dragons earned derby day bragging rights in the most dramatic of fashion as a last-gasp injury time drop goal from the boot of fly half Sam Davies secured a 22-20 win over Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14 at Rodney Parade, writes Ethan Harris.
A blistering start to the derby in torrential rain saw points for both sides early on. Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Davies both completing their respective kicking duties as they cancelled each other out with a penalty apiece in the opening minutes.
Davies was on hand once again as the Scarlets failed to clear their lines moments later, the Dragons pressure mounting in the opposition 22 forcing another penalty – allowing the number 10 to slot home the points to give his side the lead.
High energy and a quick tempo ruled the first 15 minutes – the Dragons defence standing strong in the wake of a dangerous Gareth Davies break as they kept the men in red at bay.
A back and forth affair, Rhodri Williams broke down the right and carved the Scarlets defence to pieces, with Aaron Wainwright bursting through the middle in what looked a certain try.
However, Dean Ryan’s men had to settle for only three, as a misplaced pass meant a penalty was the end result from some dangerous Dragons rugby - giving them a six-point cushion with a quarter of the game gone.
Scarlets had their chances and some last-ditch defence kept the home side ahead at a cost, with Matthew Screech sent to the sin-bin after giving up a penalty on the try-line.
Their man advantage resulted in the first score of the afternoon, Welsh international Gareth Davies with a quick dummy squeezed over the line, with Halfpenny converting the kick for a one-point Scarlets lead.
Again, the Scarlets came forward – a strong drive from just inside the 22 was too much for the Dragons defence, with Ken Owens barreling his way over and extend the visitors’ advantage, with Halfpenny slotting home the conversion.
Despite being a man down, the Dragons pushed forward and were rewarded for their efforts. Williams replicating Gareth Davies’ efforts with a quick dummy of his own slipped between defenders to put the ball down under the posts, with a Davies conversion bringing the deficit to just a point at the half; with Wyn Jones being sent to the sin-bin for the visitors.
The second-half started at a much slower pace, as both sides looked to bring in a much more cautious build-up early on.
The visitors nearly extended their lead as a result, with a cross-field kick from Ryan Lamb perfectly placed for McNicholl to collect and score unopposed.
However, despite an almost open try-line the replacement dropped the slippery ball, and the Dragons escaped once more.
A dogfight in the middle of the field ensued until the hour mark – neither side threatening to cross the try-line with both packs slugging it out for superiority, unwilling to relent.
Abhorrent conditions meant both sides were happy to play for territory throughout the second period, with long kicks the aim of the game for much of the second-half as it whittled down to the finer margins.
After half-an-hour without a score, the game sparked into life as a back-and-forth of penalties switched the lead between the sides.
After a mostly scoreless second period, Dragons pushed themselves in front thanks to the boot of Davies with just seven minutes left – the number 10 showing nerves of steel as he converted a penalty from the tee.
The lead would be short-lived, however, as a penalty just outside the 22 would be slotted home by Halfpenny who kept up with the exploits of his opposite kicker.
Dragons had the chance to push ahead from the restart with another penalty, but Davies could not continue his perfect record at the tee as his effort from just inside the half slipped wide.
Despite their setback, the Dragons were far from done. Reclaiming the ball, the home side pushed forward quickly and earned a penalty as the clock ran out.
It was an advantage they did not need, as Davies atoned for his earlier miss by slotting home a drop goal to give Dragons derby day bragging rights in unforgettable fashion.
04m Halfpenny p 0-3
06m S. Davies p 3-3
09m S. Davies p 6-3
19m S. Davies p 9-3
26m G. Davies t Halfpenny c 9-10
31m Owens t Halfpenny c 9-17
36m R. Williams t S. Davies c 16-17
73m S. Davies p 19-17
76m Halfpenny p 19-20
80m S. Davies dg 22-20
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies, Owen Jenkins (Morgan 39), Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Ashton Hewitt, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Knoyle 62); Brok Harris, Elliot Dee (Hibbard 54), Leon Brown (Jarvis 54), Joe Davies (Nansen 67), Matthew Screech, Cory Hill, Taine Basham (Moriarty 47), Aaron Wainwright
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Lloyd Fairbrother, Brandon Nansen, Ross Moriarty, Tavis Knoyle, Jacob Botica, Tyler Morgan
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl (Price 44-45, Baldwin 52), Steff Hughes, Hadleigh Parkes, Steff Evans; Dan Jones (Lamb 26), Gareth Davies (Hardy 63); Wyn Jones (Price 67), Ken Owens (Elias 62), Samson Lee (Sebastien 52), Jake Ball (Thomson 60), Sam Lousi, Aaron Shingler, Josh Macleod, Uzair Cassiem (Ratuva 60)
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Phil Price, Javan Sebastian, Tevita Ratuva, Blade Thomson, Kieran Hardy, Ryan Lamb, Corey Baldwin
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)