The Dragons picked up an impressive 15-8 victory over Ulster in their RaboDirect PRO12 opener at Rodney Parade on Friday.
The Dragons claimed an impressive 15-8 victory over Ulster in their PRO12 opener at Rodney Parade on Friday.
Five kicks from man-of the match Jason Tovey saw the Dragons secure a decent win in the league opener, cancelling out Roger Wilson's try for last year's finalists.
The game was rather uninspiring, and Ulster, who led at half-time, showed little of last season's form. But the Welsh region will be more than heartened by this excellent win.
Ulster began the encounter in ambitious fashion; injecting width into the game in the opening phase. But the visitors' enthusiasm got the better of them, culminating in the concession of a penalty on two minutes. Dragons fly-half Tovey missed the resultant kick.
Despite a fairly frenetic start, both sides offered welcome attacking intent, but the fluidity of the play was interrupted by inevitable early season rustiness.
Tovey made amends for his lapse on eight minutes, when he slotted a drop-goal to give the hosts a 3-0 advantage.
The Ulster scrum earned a deserved penalty on twelve minutes, following some tremendous work which led to Paddy Jackson duly levelling the scores. Tovey restored parity on fifteen minutes, however.
The penalty count accumulated for both teams; with the ball being fiercely contested on the floor. One such concession saw Ulster launch a formidable maul just yards from the home try line; ending with Roger Wilson touching down to make it 6-8.
As well as moments of welcome ambition, there were times when the game descended into aerial ping-pong.
Ulster's scrum ascendancy yielded another penalty on 33 minutes, but Jackson suffered a dreadful miss. Tovey likewise missed a difficult attempt on 38 minutes. By the cusp of half-time, the Welsh hosts had begun to find their rhythm, and were subjecting last year's beaten finalists to discernible pressure.
It was the Irish province that made the better start to the second-half, however, stringing together phases, and threatening the home 22. But their patterns were continually thwarted by avoidable errors. Thus it was Tovey who scored the first points of the half on 49 minutes, when he landed a penalty following poor Ulster control at the breakdown. The Welsh region's lead was now restored, the Dragons being 9-8 to the good.
Ulster responded with some efficient work from their forwards, and the visiting pack used their maul to considerable effect. But the hosts defended intelligently, and Ulster's field-position was scuppered by several errors by Jackson.
Tovey extended the Dragons' lead on 59 minutes; earning the Welsh side a thoroughly deserved four-point cushion.
The introduction of a raft of substitutes on 65 minutes galvanised the Irishmen; Ian Porter and Sean Doyle in particular threatening with ball in hand. But the game refused to ignite, and the Dragons' defended stoutly.
A stellar break by centre Jack Dixon saw him find Richie Rees in space, creating another penalty opportunity for that man Tovey on 70 minutes. The number ten continued his imperious form to make it 15-8 to the hosts.
Ulster were now desperately trying to salvage the game. Replacement fly-half James McKinney went to the corner on 73 minutes, and the away forwards subsequently camped in the home 22. But the Dragons' rearguard was simply magnificent. The hosts were able to clear their lines, therefore, and winning a couple of crucial penalties at scrum time assisted their cause.
It was the Welshmen, therefore, who held on to seal a thoroughly deserved victory that guarantees their league campaign the best possible start. Ulster will rue a litany of errors. But for the Dragons this was a statement of early season promise.
Pen: Tovey 4
Dragons: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Pat Leach, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Lewis Evans, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Jevon Groves, 5 Andrew Coombs (capt), 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Dan Way, 2 T.Rhys Thomas, 1 Aaron Coundley.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Phil Price, 18 Francisco Chaparro, 19 Adam Jones, 20 Netani Talei, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Kris Burton, 23 Ross Wardle.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Chris Farrell, 11 David McIlwaine, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Tom Court, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Sean Doyle, 21 Ian Porter, 22 James McKinney, 23 Darren Cave.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy)
Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Neil Hennessy (Wales)
By Rory McGimpsey