Dragons beaten by powerful Bulls
Centre Max Clark grabbed a first try for Dragons RFC but it was the power game of the Vodacom Bulls that proved decisive in the BKT United Rugby Championship at Rodney Parade.
The South Africans, who finished runners-up in the league last season, blazed into an early commanding lead in Newport after a score from international full back Kurt-Lee Arendse and a penalty try.
Spirited Dragons, though, battled back as Bradley Roberts and Clark saw the lead cut to just three points at the break.
The Bulls showed their clinical edge and brute power to pull clear in the second period as they denied the home side any possession and territory.
But there were positives for Dai Flanagan’s men in the wet conditions as focus now turns to Europe and the quest for knockout rugby.
Dragons made five changes for the game with Ollie Griffiths, Sean Lonsdale, Max Clark, Sam Davies and Jordan Williams all recalled. Scrum half Lewis Jones led the team out on his 100th league appearance.
Dragons looked for early territory with the recalled Williams pinning the Bulls back with a neat drilled kick to the corner before the South Africans struck for the first time in devastating fashion.
Johan Goosen, a late replacement for the ill Chris Smith, broke clear in midfield and fed the supporting Arendse who had the raw pace to slide over under pressure from Dyer.
Bulls were fast out the traps and more aggressive running resulting in a penalty for not releasing that Goosen nudged over for a 10-0 lead.
A kick in behind then saw Jones yellow carded for deliberately slapping the ball out of play under pressure and Bulls awarded a penalty try to stretch the lead to threatening 17-0 in as many minutes.
Dragons were coughing up penalties to give Bulls possession, but they were let-off by Goosen who missed touch twice and then kicked the ball dead.
Under the pump for first quarter, the home side finally sparked an attack with Ross Moriarty and Lonsdale carrying strongly and the resulting penalty allowed Davies to kick to the corner.
The forwards took ball up and rumbled close before a cross field kick saw Dyer just lose possession as he dived for the line.
Back came play for the penalty, and a training ground lineout move saw Joe Davies and Griffiths combine superbly to send Roberts over down the shortside.
More slick handling saw full back Williams only stopped in full flow by a brilliant ankle tap as he tore down the right flank.
Davies produced a peach of a 50:22 - after two aimless kicks from the visitors - and more pressure resulted in a try for a sliding Clark in the left corner after a floated pass out from Steff Hughes.
Dragons made two changes at the break with Taine Basham and Lloyd Fairbrother introduced for Griffiths and Coleman.
The home side held firm under early second half pressure and had a chance to draw level, only for a penalty from Davies to crash off the crossbar and just evade Dyer.
Another penalty saw Davies find touch, but the resulting backs move sent Dyer into space only for the pass to fail to find supporting runners.
A series of penalties finally gave Bulls field position and when they kicked to the corner it looked ominous, only for Dragons to steal ball.
Sio Tomkinson sat down his opposite number with a huge bump but spilled ball at the back saw Bulls break towards the line at real pace and win another penalty.
A series of scrums put Dragons under huge pressure and the dam finally broke when centre Harold Vorster dived over for a 24-14 lead.
The visitors ruthlessly went over for a fourth and bonus point try moments later with legendary hooker Bismarck du Plessis touching down just seconds after coming onto the field.
Davies created a counterattack when he chipped into space and collected, but back came the Bulls with a sublime 50:22 putting them five metres out as they continued to unload a powerful bench.
Gonzalo Bertranou stole ball at the back of a scrum while Dyer threatened with late surging run down the right.
However, it was the Bulls who finished on the front foot as they wrapped up the points on offer.
04m Arendse t Goosen c 0-7
12m Goosen p 0-10
16m Penalty t 0-17
25m Roberts t Davies c 7-17
35m Clark t Davies c 14-17
60m Vorster t Goosen c 14-24
65m Du Plessis t 14-29
Dragons RFC: Jordan Williams, Rio Dyer, Steff Hughes, Max Clark, Sio Tomkinson, Sam Davies (Reed 69), Lewis Jones (Bertranou 56), Aki Seiuli (Evans 56), Bradley Roberts (Coghlan 62), Chris Coleman (Fairbrother 40), Joe Davies, George Nott (Taylor 69), Sean Lonsdale, Ollie Griffiths (Basham 40), Ross Moriarty (Fry 56)
Replacements: Brodie Coghlan, Rob Evans, Lloyd Fairbrother, Huw Taylor, Taine Basham, Ben Fry, Gonzalo Bertranou, Will Reed
Vodacom Bulls: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Wandisile Simelane, Harold Vorster, . David Kriel, Johan Goosen, Zak Burger, Gerard Steenekamp, Johann Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Ruan Vermaak, Ruan Nortje, Marco van Staden, Cyle Brink, Elrigh Louw
Replacements: Simphiwe Matanzima, Bismarck Du Plessis, Sebastian Lombard, Janko Swanepoel, Nizaam Carr, Embrose Papier, Bernard van der Linde, Cornal Hendricks
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 66th league game)