by Gareth Alred
Newport Gwent Dragons were convincingly beaten by a strong Northampton Saints side at Franklin’s Gardens as they cruised to a 28-3 home win in the LV Cup.
The defending champions confirmed their forward superiority as they capitalised on ill-discipline in the Dragons ranks, with three players being shown the yellow card for the visitors. Tries from Paul Diggin, Calum Clark and Stephen Myler sealed the away side’s fate as the Men of Gwent fought hard in defence to stave off a bonus point for Jim Mallinder’s men.
Northampton set off at a canter pinning the Dragons in their own 22 from the start. The Men of Gwent held firm until the sixth minute when Stephen Myler opened the scoring with a simple penalty after a dubious offside decision. The Saints continued their forward dominance to add another penalty from the boot of Myler inside the first quarter of an hour.
The Midlands outfit proved too strong at the set-piece, with their experienced front row causing damage, but costly errors and a knock-on from Jon Clarke allowed the Dragons to escape unscathed.
Both teams showed ill-discipline in the final quarter of the field, until the Saints once again forced the Dragons scrum to collapse on their own line. Referee,Sean Davey lost patience with the Dragons front row and sent Newport’s Dan Way to the sin-bin on his first regional start. The resultant scrum created space on the blindside for Diggin to sneak in for his fifth try of the season after the half hour mark.
The Men of Gwent battled hard to put phases together and got their just reward before half time as Christian Day was penalised for not rolling away, allowing Matthew Jones to confidently strike the first points for the visitors.
An electric break from Saints full-back Shane Geraghty appeared to have the Dragons in turmoil, until a timely fall sent him sprawling metres out as the home side searched for an instant response. The Dragons lost captain Steve Jones to a finger injury just before half time as they went into the break trailing 11-3.
Turner attempted to switch things round at the interval by changing the half-backs, but further ill-discipline allowed Myler to add to his tally immediately as Northampton attempted to maul Dragons to mercy. But the Dragons spirit rallied as they pushed the Saints deep into their own half, with Jason Tovey narrowly missing a penalty after a spell of sustained pressure.
Missed tackles began to creep into the Welsh side’s defence, forcing Lloyd Burns to cynically kill the ball yards from his own line, with the referee having little alternative in sending another Dragons player to the bin. Northampton went for the jugular as the scrums became uncontested, giving a platform for the forwards to work a neat move and benefit Calum Clark with Saints second try.
The sin-bin proved vital as Myler directed proceedings and gladly accepted a gap in the visitors defence on the hour mark to drift in and convert his own try. The score had raced to 28-3 before the re-emergence of Burns as the Dragons scrapped to gain a foothold in the fixture. But the region couldn’t find the cutting edge, coming up short on several occasions as the Saints resistance appeared watertight.
Swift counter-attacking led to yet another 5 metre scrum for the home team as Nigel Hall replaced the injured Hugh Gustafson. Hall’s first involvement saw him receive Dragons third yellow card for collapsing the scrum, as Sean Davey lost all patience. But further passages of errors by each team saw the game drown out to a dismal finish, with the defending champions winning 28-3.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Pat Leach; Tom Cheeseman, Tom Riley, Rhodri Gomer-Davies, Aled Brew, Matthew Jones, James Leadbetter, Hugh Gustafson, Steve Jones (capt), Dan Way, Luke Charteris, Robert Sidoli, Adam Jones, Lewis Evans, Hugo Ellis.
Replacements: Lloyd Burns (S. Jones 39); Nigel Hall (Gustafson 69), Pat Palmer (Way 44), Adam Brown (Charteris 75), Jevon Groves, Wayne Evans (Leadbetter 40), Jason Tovey (M. Jones 40), Ashley Smith (Cheeseman).
Northampton Saints: Shane Geraghty, Joe Ansbro, Jon Clarke, James Downey, Paul Diggin, Stephen Myler, Ryan Powell, Soane Tonga’uiha, Brett Sharman, Brian Mujati, Mark Sorenson, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Phil Dowson (capt), Mark Easter.
Replacements: Andy Long (Sharman 65); Alex Waller (Tonga’uiha 77), Tom Mercey (Mujati 67), Dan Sanderson (Sorenson 55), Tom Wood (Clark 65), Stuart Commins (Powell 77), Joe Ford (Myler 77), Jamie Elliott (Clarke 74).
Referee: Sean Davey.
COACH'S REACTION by Gareth Alred
Paul Turner emerged disappointed after Friday night’s defeat to Northampton Saints in the LV= Cup having learned slightly more about his squad's character.
Not many sides leave Franklin’s Gardens with much to show, but after three wins on the bounce the Dragons bandwagon lost some momentum in a typically robust performance by the Saints men.
The Men of Gwent were comprehensively beaten by 28 points to 3, which Turner openly acknowledged that the home side deserved after they put on a superb showing of forward brutality.
“They have a couple of good broken field runners and their scrum was outstanding, all in all Northampton were the better team on the night.”
The Dragons remained without a full 15 players on the injury list and suffered from the late withdrawal of significant back-rower Toby Falatau who pulled out prior to the match due to Welsh international commitments. But the Head Coach was quick to stress he was making no excuses:
“We are trying a lot of things against these big European sides, injury allows us to bring some youngsters in and I feel we are developing players quite handily in this competition.”
Whilst nurturing the region’s youthful talent, Paul admitted he was disappointed to leave the Midlands with nothing to show.
“I thought we may have come away with something, but when I saw they had put out a full side bar their internationals I thought it was going to be a tough night. We needed the senior players to really start standing up, but even those guys were making errors.”
Turner continued to show his frustration revealing that preparations hadn’t transferred into the game, reflecting;
“We talked all week about intensity and error count, cutting it to a minimum and within 5 minutes of the game we were rocked by the intensity and had made six errors, you can’t do that at places like this.”
Although it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the Dragons camp and Turner attempted to find positives in the LV Cup loss which provided a more than adequate blow out for several players returning to fitness.
“I’m proud of our defensive efforts, which is the worst thing really, we showed we are up a notch defensively, but we had to as we made so many errors. I like coming to these sorts of places as it tells me a lot about my players and helps them to learn for themselves.”
He disclosed that it will be a tough week in training as the Dragons look to correct the mistakes of last weekend before their trip to the Royal Dublin Showground in Dublin this Friday night.
“We have got to look and find some positives and back to work on Monday. There are many things we need to work on, especially skill levels, but I believe we are improving which will be imperative against Leinster this week.”