Sharks strike late to deny battling Dragons
A superb battling display from Dragons saw them edged out by a late try as the Cell C Sharks took a slender 20-19 victory at Rodney Parade.
The Men of Gwent went toe-to-toe with the South African giants in the BKT United Rugby Championship before late heartbreak.
An impressive opening period saw the recalled Will Reed slot four penalties as Dragons deservedly took a 12-6 lead into the interval.
Hooker Elliot Dee touched down seven minutes in the second period after a powerful forward surge.
But an intercept from Grant Williams gave the visitors a way back into the game and late score from wing Thaakir Abrahams saw them take the win.
When the two sides previously met in Durban in April the home side ran out 51-3 victors.
This was a totally different affair as Dragons thrilled the home crowd with a passionate and spirited show before the late Sharks score sealed it.
After an epic pre-game light show, both teams went at from the first whistle in a thunderous opening few minutes as the tackles rained in.
Reed showed some nice early touches as he released Basham into space and then raced back to mop up a dangerous grubber in behind.
A scrum penalty allowed visiting fly half Boeta Chamberlain to open the scoring after nine minutes. Reed, though, replied with a well struck effort of his own three minutes later.
Dragons were applying plenty of pressure and disrupted more Sharks ball, allowing second row pair Will Rowlands and Ben Carter to rattle up and force another breakdown penalty that Reed nudged over.
Angus O’Brien was being given a real examination under the high ball but was standing up to the test and twice drilled in clever return kicks to force the visitors back.
The South Africans looked to put the squeeze on at scrum time before Dragons returned the favour with a big driving maul as both teams continued to unload shuddering hits.
A massive scrum penalty on South African ball was greeted by a huge ovation by the terraces and Reed stepped up to make it 9-3.
Ashton Hewitt was forced off - replaced by Jordan Williams - just before the half hour as Sharks hit back with a penalty from Chamberlain.
An exhilarating period of play before the break saw Sio Tomkinson superbly offload in the tackle to send Rio Dyer racing away before Sharks ripped ball and launched a breathless counter from deep.
One last attack saw Dragons attempt to shunt a maul over before patiently working in field and forcing a penalty for offside that Reed dispatched.
Sharks came out for the second half firing and the home side had to stand firm in the opening exchanges before exploding into life on halfway as Dyer, O’Brien and Rhodri Williams all combined.
Rodney Parade was then off its feet as a monster driving maul was forced over with Dee the man to dot down to huge acclaim.
It was to be Dee’s last involvement before he was replaced by Bradley Roberts, while Aki Seiuli was replaced by Rob Evans.
A disgruntled Sharks team came back with interest and turned down two kickable penalties to go to the corner.
But quite brilliant maul defence held them out before ripped ball allowed Rhodri Williams to race into space.
Dragons were defending with every ounce of energy as a big hit from Dyer stopped a marauding Phepsi Buthelezi before a counter ruck forced the South Africans off the ball.
Werner Kok was next to make a line break as the Sharks continued to press for a way back in, this time the momentum stopped by Nott spotting the ball out of a ruck.
The Sharks were gifted a way back as an intercept on halfway gave scrum half Grant Williams an easy run in to reduce the lead to 19-13.
Patient play forced a penalty but Reed was this time off target as his kick drifted wide right.
And Sharks broke home hearts with Thaakir Abrahams racing over down the left wing after a powerful line break.
09m Chamberlain p 0-3
12m Reed p 3-3
15m Reed p 6-3
29m Reed p 9-3
33m Chamberlain p 9-6
40m Reed p 12-6
48m Dee t Reed c 19-6
63m Williams t Chamberlain c 19-13
75m Abrahams t Chamberlain c 19-20
Dragons RFC: Angus O’Brien, Rio Dyer, Sio Tomkinson, Jack Dixon, Ashton Hewitt (J. Williams 29), Will Reed (Clark 76), Rhodri Williams (Jones 76); Aki Seiuli (Evans 50), Elliot Dee (Roberts 50), Lloyd Fairbrother (Coleman 54), Ben Carter, Will Rowlands, George Nott (Wainwright 63), Taine Basham, Ross Moriarty
Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rob Evans, Chris Coleman, Joe Davies, Aaron Wainwright, Lewis Jones, Max Clark, Jordan Williams
Cell C Sharks: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ben Tapuai, Thaakir Abrahams, Boeta Chamerlain, Grant Williams, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren, Thomas du Toit, Justin Basson, Reniel Hugo, James Venter, Dylan Richardson, Phepsi Buthelezi
Replacements: Dan Jooste, Dian Bleuler, Carlu Sadie, Hyron Andrews, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Cameron Wright, Marnus Potgieter, Anthony Volmink
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU, 22nd league game)