Hughes debut try in Italian defeat
Centre Steff Hughes scored on his debut but Dragons suffered away defeat to Benetton Rugby as the Italians powered to a 34-14 BKT United Rugby Championship victory at Stadio Monigo.
The in-form hosts took a commanding first half lead as a strong home pack performance created tries for Giacomo Nicotera and Lorenzo Cannone.
A battling second half saw visiting scores from Rio Dyer and Hughes. Fly half Sam Davies also made his playing return to hit 500 points for the club.
But it was Benetton who continued to click and further tries from Edoardo Padovani and Mattia Bellini wrapped up a bonus win.
Benetton, who boasted ten internationals in their starting line-up, came into the game full of confidence having lost only one of their last five league games.
The Italians looked to force the issue early on at the set piece and, after winning a scrum penalty, it was Tomas Albornoz who opened the scoring off the tee.
Benetton were controlling early territory and a penalty, this time for offside, saw them kick to the corner before driving over, with hooker Nicotera the man to dot down.
Max Clark forced an important turnover on the floor to halt momentum while Aaron Wainwright ripped Albornoz after his chip ahead before Rio Dyer drilled up a low kick up the line.
Benetton continued to be a huge handful at the scrum as they forced another penalty on visiting ball before pushing a driving lineout up close.
The home side were inches from scoring wide left through Marcus Watson before coming back for Number Eight Lorenzo Cannone to stroll over.
The visitors finally forced a penalty and an attacking position with quick ball - Menoncello the man caught offside. Clark bulldozed forward but the ball was lost as the forwards looked to make a dart for the posts.
Benetton duly alleviated any pressure with another scrum penalty under their own posts, with referee Sam Grove-White this time warning the Dragons front row.
A stronger defensive set forced spilled ball in midfield and allowed the alert Dyer to kick ahead, but the Italians raced back to boot the ball out.
Dragons needed some patience after Clark, Coleman and Dee carried the ball up, but a forced pass out of the tackle found the turf and Padovani smashed clear.
Wainwright looked to punch a hole in the closing seconds of the half before a collapsed scrum penalty saw Hanahan kick to the corner. But after two strong carries from Lonsdale and Dee the chance was again lost on the floor.
Dragons made two half-time changes with Rhodri Jones on for his club debut alongside Lloyd Fairbrother.
A box kick from Lewis Jones put Benetton under some early second half pressure and when the ball was spilled the hosts were fortunate to keep ball. Dragons finally struck when Dixon popped a clever pass in the tackle to release Clark.
The centre was hauled down just short, but quick ball found Dyer to dive over under huge pressure. Hughes was introduced for his debut as Albornoz – via the upright – extended the lead to 20-7.
A breathless passage of play saw Rosser break away on the inside ball and hauled down yards short before huge pressure came to nothing as ball was spilled.
Chances lost came back to bite as Benetton forced a five-metre scrum and another error allowed the Italians to build pressure.
Albornoz broke away after a clever dummy and he again got his hands on the ball close to the line to pop Padovani into space and over.
Dragons continued to make changes and a simple set move from the scrum freed up space for Hughes to score. Sam Davies added the kick for his 500 for the club.
But a superb offloading score wrapped up the bonus point for Benetton, with Bellini the man to profit from quick handling.
09m Albornoz p 3-0
13m Nicotera t Albornoz c 10-0
22m Cannone t Albornoz c 17-0
48m Dyer t Hanrahan c 17-7
51m Albornoz p 20-7
62m Padovani t Albornoz c 27-7
67m Hughes t S. Davies c 27-14
70m Bellini t Albornoz c 34-14
Benetton: Edoardo Padovani; Marcus Watson, Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Ignacio Mendy; Tomas Albornoz, Dewaldt Duvenage; Ivan Nemer, Giacomo Nicotera, Simone Ferrari; Scott Scrafton, Federico Ruzza; Manuel Zuliani, Michele Lamaro, Lorenzo Cannone
Replacements: Manuel Arroyo, Thomas Gallo, Tiziano Pasquali, Niccolò Cannone, Toa Halafihi, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Marco Zanon, Mattia Bellini
Dragons RFC: Angus O’Brien, Rio Dyer, Max Clark, Jack Dixon (Hughes 50), Jared Rosser, JJ Hanrahan (S. Davies 66), Lewis Jones (Williams 62); Rob Evans (R. Jones 40), Elliot Dee (Roberts 46), Chris Coleman (Fairbrother 40), Joe Davies (Moriarty 46), Ben Carter, Sean Lonsdale, Ben Fry (Basham 59), Aaron Wainwright
Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhodri Jones, Lloyd Fairbrother, Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Rhodri Williams, Sam Davies, Steff Hughes.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU, 27th league game)