European Challenge Cup: Dragons 21-35 Northampton Saints

Northampton scrum-half Alex Mitchell outstripped the Dragons defence to score the second try
Northampton scrum-half Alex Mitchell outstripped the Dragons defence to score the second try
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Dragons (0) 21
Tries: Dee, Sage, Penalty try Cons: Lewis 2
Northampton (21) 35
Tries: Ribbans 2, Mitchell, Penalty try, Reinach Cons: Biggar 2, Grayson 2

Northampton put last week's opening Challenge Cup loss to Clermont Auvergne behind them by sweeping past Dragons.

With Wales fly-half Dan Biggar pulling the strings, Saints were 21-0 ahead by half-time, as David Ribbans and Alex Mitchell crossed before a penalty try.

Dragons restored some pride with tries from Elliot Dee and Jarryd Sage, plus a last-gasp penalty try.

But Ribbans' second try secured Saints a bonus point, before Cobus Reinach underlined their dominance.

Dragons are far from out of contention in Pool One, having beaten Romanian minnows Timisoara Saracens in round one. But, on this evidence, Bernard Jackman's side will need a drastic improvement if they are to challenge for the knock-out stage.

Northampton were at their hosts from the start, forcing a string of penalties with which they opted for attacking line-outs rather than kicking for goal.

That saw lock Ribbans eventually force his way over, with Biggar stroking the conversion.

Referee Mathieu Raynal awarded Saints a penalty try and sin-binned two Dragons players
Referee Mathieu Raynal awarded Saints a penalty try and sin-binned two Dragons players

Dragons almost hit back when Rhodri Williams intercepted inside his own 22, but the scrum-half did not quite have the legs to finish it off and instead kicked ahead to at least force Saints back deep into their own half.

But Northampton were soon back on the scoreboard, with Wales fly-half Biggar the instigator as he glided through a gap to send half-back partner Mitchell to the line before adding his second conversion.

It could have been even worse for Dragons, but Saints hooker Mikey Haywood fumbled a pass with the line at his mercy.

Part of Dragons' problems stemmed from the kicking of fly-half Josh Lewis, who missed touch with a string of penalties to heap pressure on his side.

That meant full-back Jordan Williams took over the tactical kicking, and his first effort to touch drew ironic cheers from the Rodney Parade crowd.

With Northampton dominant, the penalty count against Dragons continued to mount and it was no surprise when referee Mathieu Raynal lost patience and yellow-carded Lewis Evans.

With Dragons down a lock, Saints went for the jugular and earned a penalty try as Adam Warren, an early replacement for wing Jared Rosser, tried to pull down a rolling maul.

Northampton were gifted seven points and Warren joined Evans in the sin-bin to leave Dragons with 13 men on the field.

Northampton and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar went off at half-time with an injury
Northampton and Wales fly-half Dan Biggar went off at half-time with an injury

Biggar, who looked to have taken a blow to the ribs, did not emerge for the second half, with James Grayson taking over at fly-half.

The British and Irish Lion's fitness will be a concern for Wales coach Warren Gatland, just two weeks before their opening autumn international with Scotland.

Back to 15 men, Dragons rallied to get on the scoreboard through hooker Dee, with Lewis proving better with his place kicking to add the conversion.

But Northampton underlined their power by claiming their fourth try, with Ribbans again the beneficiary of a close-range drive.

Dragons centre Sage was smart to pop onto his feet after not being held in the tackle to add a second home try, after good turnover work by Ollie Griffiths.

But Reinach added a fifth try for Saints when the South African replacement ripped the ball and galloped away down the wing.

Dargons at least had the last word when they earned a penalty try from a last-gasp attacking line-out drive but, despite giving the scoreboard some gloss, were in truth well beaten.

Dragons coach Bernard Jackman told BBC Radio Wales: "You can't give these big English Premiership teams - or [French side] Clermont - that many set-piece opportunities in your own 22 and it was a harsh lesson for us.

"We definitely should have gone on and got the four-try bonus the way the game was going second half, but there were too many silly errors.

"It's going to be tough now, we're going to have to beat Clermont at home, we've got to go to Saints, so we've made it hard for ourselves."

Dragons: J Williams; Kirchner, Morgan, Sage, Rosser; Lewis, R Williams; Harris, Dee, Brown, Evans, Hill (capt), Wainwright, Griffiths, Moriarty.

Replacements: Hibbard, Jarvis, Fairbrother, Screech, Taylor, Davies, Warren, Talbot-Davies.

Northampton Saints: Tuala; Collins, Kellaway, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller (capt), Haywood, Franks, Ribbans, Lawes, Gibson, Wood, Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, Van Wyk, Painter, Barrow, Ludlam, Reinach, Grayson, Burrell.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas, Mathieu Noirot (France)

TMO: Gareth John (Wales)

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