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Dragons Triumph In New Year’s Day Nail-Biter

jmcconnell 1 Jan 2008

Newport Gwent Dragons started 2008 with a bang at a jam-packed Rodney Parade as a 90th-minute try from winger Richard Mustoe saw them overhaul Llanelli Scarlets for a precious Magners League win.

The Scarlets had looked set to join Leinster at the top of the league standings as a converted penalty try, preceded by a penalty kick from Rhys Priestland, helped them to a 10-3 half-time lead.

A 52nd-minute try from centre Ashley Smith, converted by Ceri Sweeney, got the Dragons back level but the Scarlets, searching for their fifth win in six league games, hit back again through the boot of Priestland.

The young fly-half’s 59th-minute penalty kick was the difference between the sides until Mustoe salvaged a much-needed win for Paul Turner’s men by touching down right at the death.

Having shocked the Scarlets 30-23 at Stradey Park on September 1, the Dragons were chasing their first season’s double over the men in red since regional rugby was introduced.

They had to do it the hard way with 13 of their players currently on the treatment table, including Wales internationals Luke Charteris and Gareth Wyatt.

While the Scarlets have had a flu bug in their camp and were also without Stephen Jones due to a thumb injury, they looked the more likely to score a try during a poor quality first half.

Full-back Morgan Stoddart once again threatened from deep and the Scarlets attack seemed to have more bite to it, despite a quiet outing from Kiwi Regan King.

Priestland opened the scoring in the seventh-minute after Dragons scrum half Andy Williams was penalised for a deliberate knock-on.

A surging run from Mustoe forced the Scarlets onto the back foot but with Sweeney missing his touch from a penalty, the visitors were let off the hook.

Both sides were guilty of going in off their feet at ruck time and the opening half was a rather listless one.

Priestland missed a 45-metre penalty kick coming up to the half-hour mark but the Scarlets were edging the scrum battle and continued to look the more capable with ball in hand.

An excellent break from Stoddart led to the Scarlets’ one and only try, eight minutes before the break. He sliced through the Dragons defence before being stopped short in the left corner. King came through on the follow-up but the Dragons did well to get back and disrupt the attack.

However, the home eight infringed at the resulting scrum – with referee James Jones ruling that the Dragons had wilfully turned the scrum around as the Scarlets got a shove on – and the visitors were awarded an immediate penalty try which Priestland easily converted.

Just before half-time though, the Scarlets lost flanker James Bater to the sin-bin for killing the ball at a ruck inside his own 22 and the Dragons got themselves back in touch with Sweeney scoring from a 20-metre penalty.

Adam Black, a replacement for the second half, helped steady the ship for the Dragons in the scrum and a good feed for scrum half Williams led to the home side getting over for the levelling try.

Williams offloaded for Sweeney to nip pass his opposite number Priestland and he found the supporting Smith who was able to dart in under the posts for a well-worked score.

Sweeney’s conversion squared up the game at 10-10 but the deadlock was soon broken again when Priestland sent over his second successful penalty.

The Dragons’ late push for points seemed in vain as Llanelli determinedly held onto their three-point lead and a couple of uncharacteristic knock-ons from Michael Owen saw the home side lose momentum.

They won a kickable penalty, three minutes from the end of normal time, but instead of settling for the draw, they opted to kick for touch and keep up their search for a second try.

Yet they lost the subsequent lineout, with Nathan Thomas continuing to prove a thorn in their side at the set piece, and that looked to be it.

But showing heaps of courage and stamina, the Dragons kept plugging away for a try in injury-time and it eventually came through the hard-working Mustoe.

Scrum ball was sent out from left to right and the Scarlets defence crucially slipped up as Richard Fussell and Morgan combined in midfield, with the latter dancing out of a tackle and firing out a beautifully weighted pass for Mustoe to slide over in the corner.

Sweeney missed the conversion but it did not matter for the Dragons, who donned limited edition blue jerseys which were auctioned off post-match to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity (TCT).

The win, only the Dragons’ second in ten games, sees them close the gap again on the eighth-placed Ospreys to two points, while Llanelli sit in third spot behind Cardiff and table-toppers Leinster.

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