Dragons fall to Zebre defeat
A youthful Dragons side suffered home defeat to Zebre as the Italians produced an impressive second half show to wrap maximum points in the Guinness PRO14 at Rodney Parade.
Number Eight Harrison Keddie grabbed a first half try on an ice-cold evening in Newport and flanker Taine Basham also grabbed a late score – his seventh try in nine appearances this campaign.
But as temperatures plummeted it was Zebre – boosted by the return of their Italian internationals – who pulled away to end a 20-game winless run and secure a first league victory since October 2018.
Boss Dean Ryan rung the changes from the side that won in Russia, with Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard, Joe Davies, Huw Taylor, Owen Jenkins, Adam Warren, Jack Dixon and Keddie returning.
Aaron Wainwright, Elliot Dee, Leon Brown, Sam Davies, OIlie Griffiths and Ashton Hewitt were missing on Welsh duty for clash against the Barbarians in Cardiff.
Zebre started the game at an electric pace with wing James Elliot tearing down the left flank and into space within the first two minutes, before ball was lost in contact.
Owen Jenkins rose highest to take a high kick and skipper Richard Hibbard rattled into early tackles, but it was Zebre who were posing the early questions and who broke through on nine minutes.
Back row Maxime Mbanda burst down middle to splinter the home defence and a grubber kick in behind from thre alert Canna exposed wide open space, with the ball collected by Elliott who dotted down.
The home side looked to respond with lock Davies cutting through a midfield gap and Daf Howells racing down the right touchline to try and spark Ryan’s men into life.
The home try were building momentum and a try arrived when recalled centre Dixon produced a barnstorming run and found the supporting Keddie on his right shoulder to score.
Huw Taylor and Keddie were leading the charge in defence as Dragons held firm under a serious examination while Will Talbot-Davies was frequently injecting pace and probing from full back.
However, a penalty from Canna edged the Italians back ahead before the half hour mark, while he also saw a drop goal attempt drift wide right.
The whistle of referee Clancy was stating to hurt Dragons and another penalty, this time for offside, allowed Canna to open up a six-point lead.
Arwel Robson, at the other end, saw a kick of his own before the interval go wide as Zebre took a 13-7 lead to the sheds.
The Italians cut through again at the start of second period to extend the lead, with full back Edoardo Padovani brushing off tackles to score under the posts.
It was a double blow for Dragons with wing Howells injured in the build-up and helped off the field in clear discomfort and replaced by Tyler Morgan.
Zebre were starting to fire the ball around at pace, on the back of a physical pack display as they looked to win every collision across the field.
Centre Tommaso Boni was the next to benefit as he finished off some impressive handling from the Italian backline to send the visitors further ahead.
Talbot-Davies had to be alert to slide across the turf and collect another devilish grubber kick in behind from Canna.
And Morgan inserted some real pace and direction to the attack as he looked to break out wide left and free Adam Warren.
But it was visiting wing Charlie Walker who added the late try bonus for Zebre when he scored in the corner.
Back row Basham grabbed a consolation for Dragons, after a charged down kick, but it was left to Zebre to finish the scoring when back row Mbanda broke clear to score a fifth in the final minutes.
09m Elliott t Canna c 0-7
18m Keddie t Robson c 7-7
28m Canna p 7-10
35m Canna p 7-13
44m Padovani t Canna c 7-20
51m Boni t Canna c 7-27
72m Walker t 7-32
74m Basham t 12-32
77m Mbanda t Biondelli c 12-39
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies, Dafydd Howells (Morgan 45), Adam Warren, Jack Dixon, Owen Jenkins, Arwel Robson (Botica 45), Tavis Knoyle (Williams 54); Brok Harris (Reynolds 76), Richard Hibbard (Shipp 69), Lloyd Fairbrother (Jarvis 54), Joe Davies, Matthew Screech, Huw Taylor, Taine Basham, Harrison Keddie (Fry 65)
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Josh Reynolds, Aaron Jarvis, Max Williams, Ben Fry, Rhodri Williams, Jacob Botica, Tyler Morgan
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani (Bruno 78), Charlie Walker, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, James Elliott, Carlo Canna (Biondelli 72), Marcello Violi (Renton 55); Danilo Fischetti (Lovotti 56), Luca Bigi (Fabiani 67), Giosue Zilocchi (Bello 61), Mick Kearney (Sisi 65), Ian Nagle, Maxime Mbanda, Giovanni Licata, Renato Giammarioli (Meyer 65)
Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi, Johan Meyer, Joshua Renton, Michelangelo Biondelli, Pierre Bruno
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)