By Gareth Alred
Newport Gwent Dragons increased their lead at the top of Pool 2 in the LV=Cup after a sublime victory over Sale Sharks at a blustery Edgeley Park.
Flying winger Adam Hughes touched down twice, followed by Aled Brew’s seventh try of the season in a ten minute spell that blew the home side away to finish a troublesome day in style.
The Aviva Premiership outfit battled back admirably with three tries, including a double from debutant Henry Thomas, but couldn’t salvage the bonus point as the Men of Gwent move a step closer to only their second semi-final in a major competition.
The home side started on top under the orchestration of the in-form Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel, but failed to capitalise on their pressure as the Dragons defence proved resolute on their own try line.
Sale Sharks managed to open the scoring with a penalty from the boot of fly-half Rob Miller, after the visitors scrum collapsed beneath the strain. The pack made immediate amends, forcing the hosts forwards to return the favour, allowing Matthew Jones to slot a difficult penalty.
The Men of Gwent began to impose themselves after shaking off the difficult news of Paul Turner’s suspension, as the North-West club crept offside at the set-piece leaving Jones a much simpler three points in front of the posts.
With the game becoming loose and unstructured, ill-discipline increased but neither team could break the score line as the region’s defence held firm. There were positive signs for the travelling Dragons faithful with the returning Martyn Thomas, Joe Bearman and Matthew Watkins all impressive in attack.
As the interval neared, the astute Peel took a quick tap to send Sale on the front foot, but a devastating interception from Brew led to a 80 metre dash for the line only to be caught just short by the sprinting Iain Thornley.
The resultant breakdown rapidly became a mêlée, as the clubs clashed in a fiery confrontation with the Dragons losing Scott Morgan to the sin-bin. His former Cardiff Blues team-mate Scott Macleod let frustration boil over as his retaliation to the incident saw him earn a yellow card and facial damage as the brawl threatened to spill over in the dug-outs.
The interval proved pivotal for the Dragons as they found the instant remedy when Hughes raced over the whitewash after some patient build-up gave Watkins the chance to supply the young flyer, only starting the fixture due to Will Harries limping out of the warm-up. Jones was unfortunate to clatter the post in his conversion effort.
Hughes doubled his tally soon after as the floodgates began to open. Substitute Jason Tovey turned provider this time with a perfectly executed pass finding the winger for his second of the night.
Edgeley Park was further stunned moments later as Brew capped a devastating 10 minute period with a typical Dragons try, including intricate link-up play with Tovey and the outstanding Pat Leach to pull 22 points clear as Jones added the extras.
There was a certain authority in the Dragons attack which has lacked in recent times as they submitted the Sharks into cynically killing the ball under their own sticks. Jones stepped up to notch another three to his points haul.
A terrific fight back ensued as the Sharks wouldn’t lie down allowing Sale Jets captain Henry Thomas to barrel over the try line twice in quick succession as the Dragons resistance was stretched.
The Sharks rallied to place further pressure on a tired Gwent outfit that battled endlessly, but couldn’t prevent replacement prop Aston Croall crossing the line, after outside half Jones saw yellow for an offside decision.
Unfortunately Macleod hooked the conversion effort leaving Sale with nothing to show for their late efforts as the Dragons ran out 28-20 deserved winners.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Martyn Thomas, Adam Hughes, Matthew Watkins, Pat Leach, Aled Brew, Matthew Jones, Jon Evans; Scott Roberts, Steve Jones (C), Pat Palmer, Scott Morgan, Rob Sidoli, Joe Bearman, Lewis Evans, Hugo Ellis.
Replacements: Lloyd Burns (S. Jones 48), Phil Price (Roberts 62), Gethin Robinson, Adam Jones (Bearman 51), Gavin Thomas (Ellis 69-71); Mike Petri, Ashley Smith (Brew 66), Jason Tovey (M. Thomas 40).
Sale Sharks: Nick Macleod, Iain Thornley, Jonny Kennedy, Chris Bell, Ben Cohen, Rob Miller, Dwayne Peel; Lee Imiolek, Marc Jones, Henry Thomas, Chris Jones, Nic Rouse, Sean Cox (C), Carl Fearns, Sisa Koyamaibole.
Replacements: Ben Roberts, Aston Croall (Imiolek 66), Simon McIntyre, Wame Lewaravu (Rouse 77), Chris Brightwell (Koyamaibole 60); Will Cliff (Peel 76), Andy Tuilagi (Thornley 65), Paul Williams (Miller 48).
Referee: Wayne Barnes