Perpignan edged out the Dragons 23-19 in a scrappy Heineken Cup game at the Stade Aimé-Giral on Friday.
The Dragons will be kicking themselves. A team with a whole new set of trainers and a line-up sporting about 30 per cent new faces, the Catalans were thoroughly disjointed and out of sorts.
They coughed up cheap ball, they succumbed to a higher than average count of moments of madness, and they let far too many opportunities slip. It was as if the new Perpignan faces had pitched up to training for the first time the night before the game.
Yet a steady stream of penalties - 7-2 in favour of Perpignan - helped redress the balance in the first half, and a mixture of poor Dragons decision-making and atrocious execution aided the home team in the second half.
Even in the final couple of minutes, when Perpignan teams of years gone by would have stuffed the ball up their jerseys and marched the remaining seconds down the pitch with it, the forwards instead gave away two turnovers and one idiotic penalty.
What did the Dragons do with those three presents? The turnovers were fumbled, and Ceri Sweeney's penalty failed to find touch. The whole stuttery passage of play epitomised why the home fans booed the victory and why the away team stalked off shaking heads in dismay. Nobody left this match satisfied.
The match was also overshadowed by a terrible-looking injury to 19-year-old flanker Dan Lydiate, who collided with a team-mate in a tackle, and could only be stretchered off after ten minutes of careful preparation and with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. Subsequent reports said that he was conscious again, but nothing else. We wish him well.
Perpignan started brightly enough, Henry Tuilagi cranking up the stadium noise with a burst and the Catalan forwards piling on the pressure. Nathan Hines went close after two penalties had been dispatched to the corner and the driving maul formed, and the third penalty in that passage of play was converted by Cedric Rosalen for the opening points, a 3-0 lead.
It was one of those French moments of madness that handed the lead back to the Dragons though; Nicolas Durand trying to clear a kick to touch before his hands had even secured a loose ball. The ball fell to the floor in Perpignan's in-goal, and Gareth Wyatt pounced to hand the Dragons a surprise 5-3 advantage.
After 18 minutes, referee Alan Lewis had a stern word with the captains about the repeated infringements at ruck which were ruining the game's flow, and immediately the benefits of some expert officiating were there for all to see.
Quicker ball gave first Tuilagi, then David Marty, then Rimas Alvarez Kairelis an extra yard of space and momentum with which to pierce the Dragons' defence, and finally the ball came out to hooker Guilhem Guirado who cut an equally impressive line to get to the tryline.
Lydiate was injured in the build-up to that try, and Rosalen could only convert ten minutes later to make it 10-5.
Two more penalties from the reliable boot of Rosalen handed Perpignan a 16-5 lead at the break - but it was the Dragons who started brightest in the second half.
Wales veteran Colin Charvis put them on the front foot, and scrum-half Andy Williams kept the attack moving before Lydiate's replacement Joe Bearman stormed over on 50 minutes.
Sweeney's conversion reduced the deficit to four points as the Welsh region threatened a remarkable comeback, with Perpignan simply unable to find any cohesion or rhythm.
But as the Dragons grew in belief, Tuilagi delivered a timely boost, the giant Samoan number eight smashing through the Welsh defence on the hour to re-establish an 11-point lead, and to establish himself as a folk hero among the home fans. They love a forward charger here, and Tuilagi was all that and more in the 65 minutes he was on
Indiscipline could also have ruined Perpignan's night, as Scotland star Nathan Hines - Perpignan's captain and rarely short of a few words - was singled out when Irish referee Alan Lewis lost patience with his team's indiscretions and flashed the yellow card for an infringement at a ruck on 68 minutes.
That saw the momentum swing back as the Dragons forwards made the most of their extra man to seal a valuable bonus point via Sweeney's dart for a try and subsequent conversion. There could, and should, have been more.
Man of the match: It was easy to pick out the diamonds from the mud on both sides. Perpignan hooker Guilhem Guirado looks a real prospect for France's future (a real rarity for Perpignan these days: a home-grown talent), David Marty delivered his touches of international calss to proceedings, and flankers Damien Chouly and Viliami Vaki delivered sterling efforts. For the Dragons, Colin Charvis and Michael Owen were a cut above, while young centre Rhodri Gomer-Davies flashed potential in attack. But Perpignan has a new hero, whose break created the first Catalan try, and whose second try was the killer blow. Henry Tuilagi takes the plaudits - and Sebastian Chabal's title of 'man you'd least like to have running towards you in a tight alley' is under threat.
Tries: Guirado, Tuilagi
Cons: Rosalen 2
Pens: Rosalen 3
For the Dragons:
Tries: Wyatt, Bearman, Sweeney
Cons: Sweeney 2
Yellow Card: Nathan Hines (Perpignan, 68, killing the ball)
Perpignan: 15 Jérôme Porical, 14 Federico Martin Aramburu, 13 David Marty, 12 Gavin Hume, 11 Julien Candelon, 10 Cédric Rosalen, 9 Nicolas Durand, 8 Henry Tuilagi, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Viliami Vaki, 5 Nathan Hines (c), 4 Rimas Alvarez Kairelis, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Kisi Pulu.
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ladhuie, 17 Sebastian Bozzi, 18 Olivier Olibeau, 19 Charles Geli, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Thomas Anies, 22 Adrien Plante.
Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Gareth Wyatt, 13 Rhodri Gomer Davies, 12 Ashley Smith, 11 Richard Mustoe, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Andy Williams, 8 Colin Charvis, 7 Richard Parks, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Michael Owen, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Adam Black.
Replacements: 16 Ben Daly, 17 Hugh Gustafson, 18 Andrew Hall, 19 Joe Bearman, 20 Wayne Evans, 21 Aled Thomas, 22 Paul Emerick.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Touch judges: Olan Trevor (Ireland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)