Zebre strike late in Italian loss
Dragons suffered late defeat to Zebre in the United Rugby Championship as the Italians struck late at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma.
Second half tries from Lewis Jones and Jared Rosser looked to have swung a tight encounter for the Men of Gwent.
But two yellow cards in the final quarter proved decisive and Zebre scored the match winning try with five minutes left to secure a first win of the league season.
Dragons started the game on the front foot with back row duo Taine Basham and Harri Keddie carrying into contact to force the home side back.
Early threat and territory was rewarded when fly half Davies slotted over a sixth minute penalty.
The home side responded with an impressive spell, as they strung phases together and looked to stretch Dragons down both flanks.
A penalty for not rolling away allowed Antonio Rizzi to level the scores.
Davies and Rizzi exchanged penalties at the midpoint of the half, as both fly halves showed real accuracy off the tee as the game grew increasingly scrappy.
A break from home full back Junior Laloifi threatened an opening try, but as the Italians looked to spread the ball a low pass was knocked on and then hacked clear by Keddie.
The penalties were starting to stack up and an infringement at the breakdown saw Zebre kick to the corner and powerfully drive over, with home hooker Luca Bigi the man to dot down.
A knock on from Zebre gave Dragons an attacking platform and, after kicking a resulting penalty to the corner, the drive surged forward before Chris Coleman broke off and was held up over the line.
A penalty just before half-time gave Dragons one last platform as Davies kicked deep into the home half.
They forced another quickly and turned down three points to go to the corner, but Zebre stood firm and won a breakdown battle to take a slender 11-6 lead into the break.
Dragons, who made a half-time change with Josh Lewis replacing Jack Dixon in midfield, started the second half with increased tempo.
Jordan Williams and Taine Basham produced big carries, but as Dragons looked to keep the ball alive they conceded another penalty for holding on.
Captain Keddie stopped what looked a certain second home try with a superb breakdown penalty in the shadow of his own posts.
Davies almost broke clear after a neat show and go at the line before the introduction of scrum half Lewis Jones paid immediate dividends.
Wing Rio Dyer cut a superb line down the right wing to break away and he had the awareness to pass back to Jones who bundled his way over.
A brilliant breakdown penalty from Basham gave the Men of Gwent more ball before a second try arrived, superb hands from Jordan Williams sending Rosser over for the lead.
Zebre hunted a response and should have had it as they burst through the middle via centre Enrico Lucchin but lock Andrea Zambonin spilled the ball as he looked to pick and dive over the line.
Tempers flared after a Zebre man was shunted into touch, with Rosser sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle.
Referee Chris Busby then reduced Dragons to 13 and sent Sam Davies to the sin bin after awarding a penalty try, after adjudging the fly half had kicked the ball away as the Italians looked to strike.
With a two-man disadvantage, Dragons looked to play territory and eat up time and even threatened down the left as Josh Lewis found space.
But pressure told with five minutes left as wing Simone Gesi went over in the corner to secure a first win of the campaign for Zebre.
06m Davies p 0-3
12m Rizzi p 3-3
15m Davies p 3-6
17m Rizzi p 6-6
24m Bigi t 11-6
54m Jones t 11-11
59m Rosser t Davies c 11-18
64m Penalty t 18-18
75m Gesi t 23-18
Zebre: Junior Laloifi, Jacopo Trulla, Erich Cronjé, Enrico Lucchin, Simone Gesi, Antonio Rizzi, Chris Cook; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi, Ion Neculai, David Sisi, Andrea Zambonin, Maxime Mbandà, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Taina Fox-Matamua
Replacements: Giampietro Ribaldi, Paolo Buonfiglio, Eduardo Bello, Gabriele Venditti, Luca Andreani, Alessandro Fusco, Timothy O’Malley, Michelangelo Biondelli
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Rio Dyer, Adam Warren (Reed 68), Jack Dixon (Lewis 40), Jared Rosser, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Jones 53); Aki Seiuli, Taylor Davies (Benjamin 77), Chris Coleman (Doge 71), Joe Davies (Taylor 53), Ben Carter, Harri Keddie, Ben Fry (Greggains 77), Taine Basham
Replacements: James Benjamin, Josh Reynolds, Mesake Doge, Huw Taylor, Lennon Greggains, Lewis Jones, Will Reed, Josh Lewis
Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)