Saints slay Dragons as they edge closer to home semi-final

Saints’ power pack ensured there would be no slip up in the Rodney Parade mudbath as Newport Gwent Dragons were slayed 34-16 in the LV= Cup.

Kahn Fotuali'i goes forward for Northampton Saints at Newport (pictures: Linda Dawson)
Kahn Fotuali'i goes forward for Northampton Saints at Newport (pictures: Linda Dawson)

Jim Mallinder’s men recovered from a 16-15 half-time deficit to grab a bonus-point win that takes them closer to a home semi-final.

They were made to work hard in extreme conditions, which forced referee Andrew Small to haul the players off the pitch five minutes before the break as the rain and wind battered the pitch.

A huge scrum earned a penalty try to put Saints in the ascendancy before Fa’atoina Autagavaia grabbed the first score of his Northampton career.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

But the Dragons responded through the boot of Jason Tovey, and a try from scrum-half Luke Jones just before half-time sent them in with a slender lead.

It wasn’t to be a happy ending for the home team, though, as Saints scored three tries after the interval, with forwards Mike Haywood, Gareth Denman and GJ van Velze using unstoppable driving mauls to get on the scoresheet.

Glenn Dickson added nine points with the boot in a steady display in slippery conditions, while Saints also dealt with the first-half sin-binning of Teimana Harrison to prevail.

It had always promised to be a day for the big men to shine as the weather took its toll on the game in the opening stages.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Saints, and Rob Verbakel in particular, struggled to get to grips with proceedings early on, with the lock fumbling a couple of times in the first few minutes.

Dragons put the pressure on at the scrum, but after winning a penalty through their forwards failed to make the most of a spell of possession close to the Saints line.

And after relieving the pressure with a penalty, the away side responded in the set piece, getting a huge shove on to earn a kick which Dickson slotted to make it 3-0.

The Dragons responded through Tovey’s penalty, and the fly-half was at it again soon after, belting a kick from halfway through the posts.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

But Saints were enjoying a sizeable advantage up front and another huge scrum five metres from the Dragons line pushed Small into awarding a penalty try.

Dickson added the extras to make it 10-6 before Tovey missed his first kick of the afternoon, a tough attempt from out wide.

The Dragons were able to cut the gap in the 26th minute as van Velze was caught in an offside position and Tovey made no mistake with the penalty from in front of the posts.

But Saints didn’t waste much time in heading down the other end and scoring again as a nice break from Kahn Fotuali’i ended in wing Autagavaia dotting down.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Dickson missed the conversion before the weather took over, forcing the officials to send the players back to the dressing rooms while the conditions eased.

When the teams returned to the pitch after the short interlude, Harrison was soon sent to the bin, paying the price for his team’s failure to heed warnings from Small.

The Dragons made the most of their man advantage, driving through the mud to crash over the line.

After calling on the TMO, Small awarded the try to scrum-half Jones, with Tovey adding the extras to send his side in one point up at the break.

But Saints soon battled back after the break, with Haywood’s score starting their recovery.

The hooker made the most of an irresistable surge towards the home line and Dickson kept his feet amid the mudbath to put his side six points up.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

And Saints were soon further ahead thanks to another forward, Denman.

A big scrum against the head won possession and the tighthead prop pounced on a neat Dickson pass to go over in the corner.

Having been ahead at half-time, the Dragons found themselves 11 points down inside 13 second-half minutes, and they needed a response.

Powerhouse No.8 Netani Talei did his best to provide one with some big carries dragging his team on by the scruff of the neck.

Saints were pushed into conceding penalties and they survived a scare as the Dragons were denied a try by the TMO.

And, to add salt to the wounds, the home side soon shipped another try as van Velze latched on to the back of another huge driving maul to score in the corner.

Dickson added the extras to take his team 18 points clear and Dragons were denied another try by the TMO before the end as Saints closed the game out.

Newport Gwent Dragons: Evans; Pewtner (Wardle 11), Leach, Smith, Harries; Tovey (Burton 47), L Jones (Rees 47); Price (Evans 51), Dee (Thomas 47), Buck (Mills 57), Hill, A Jones (Screech 35), L Evans (c), Benjamin (Groves 57), Talei.

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, Stephenson, Waldouck, Autagavaia; G Dickson (Olver 70), Fotuali’i (A Day 70); E Waller (Hobbs-Awoyemi 65), Haywood (McMillan 65), Denman (Parkins 65), Verbakel, C Day, Harrison (Nutley 65), Dowson (c) (Williams 66), van Velze.

Replacements not used: G Pisi.

Referee: Andrew Small

Attendance: 6,011

Pictures by Linda Dawson