Dragons display a formidable sense of identity

Gwent Dragons 24 Ulster 15
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The Independent Online

Whatever troubles they have been suffering off the field, on it the players of the oft- named South-East Wales franchise have been showing some serious mettle.

Ulster are never an easy prospect, home or away, and Gwent Dragons were reminded of that throughout a thrilling encounter that took the winter chill off the day and went to a pounding finish. In the end it was a deserved victory, the home side having shown a trifle more enterprise than the visitors. But it was relief which greeted the clinching score late in the game.

This was rugged, exciting stuff, as befits a clash between the leaders and the third-placed team in the Celtic League. Ulster had beaten Dragons in that competition earlier this season in Belfast, but the Dragons were in no mood to allow the Irishmen a repeat yesterday.

Predictably, the opening scores were all from kicks despite the fact that the specialist boot men had apparently claimed that they did not enjoy using the grandly titled Webb Ellis ball. David Humphreys at least, appeared to have few problems with this lighter ball. The Ulsterman, knocked over two untroubled penalties and a drop goal, which had nosed the Irishmen in front after half an hour. Dragons though stayed in touch through Lee Jarvis, who did not enjoy quite as much success with the new ball, missing a penalty and a conversion, and went ahead with a try by Ben Breeze.

That touchdown had come after Ulster had been reduced to 14 men when the tight-head prop Simon Best was shown a yellow card after some skulduggery at a breakdown. Severe pressure was then applied by the Dragons, taking them almost up to the Ulster line.

Although Ulster were awarded a scrum, the Welsh pack won the set-piece, the No 8 Ross Beattie picked up and popped up a pass for the left wing to breeze over, prompting jubilant chants of "Newport, Newport", as the crowd let the authorities know precisely which team was playing at Rodney Parade. The try was just reward for the Dragons and their pack in particular, since they had been putting the squeeze on their opponents in the set-piece and at the line-out. At the latter, Ulster were strangely inconsistent, allowing Peter Sidoli and Ian Gough to ruin the Irish throw.

The passion and the tempo of the match quickened after half-time. Early Ulster pressure was countered by muscular counter-attacking from the Dragons. Jarvis andHumphreys traded goal-kicks twice as both sides conceded penalties under pressure.

The Irishmen worked like crazy to get in front but the Welsh were having none of it. They held firm and then after a kick upfield Dragons swung it wide to the left where Percy Montgomery, the former Springbok full-back, marked his first match following his 18 month ban - 12 months suspended - for pushing a touch judge, with the clinching try.

Gwent Dragons: Tries Breeze, Montgomery; Conversion Jarvis; Penalties Jarvis 4. Ulster: Penalties Humphreys 4; Drop Goal Humphreys.

Gwent Dragons: P Montgomery; N Brew (G Arasa, h-t), H Luscombe (A Marinos, 79), S Winn, B Breeze; L Jarvis, G Baber; A Black (R Snow, 53), S Jones (P Young, 46), C Anthony, I Gough (M Owen, 79), P Sidoli, J Ringer (R Oakley, 79), R Beattie, J Forster (capt).

Ulster: B Cunningham; J Topping, R Constable, P Steinmetz, T Howe; D Humphreys, N Doak; R Kempson, M Sexton (P Shields, h-t), S Best (R Moore, 59), R Frost, G Longwell (M Mustchin, 56), A Ward (capt), R Wilson, N Best (R Moore, 28-37).

Referee: R Maybank (Orpington).