The Dragons became the first team to lose to Zebre all season after having two players yellow carded in quick succession in the final quarter of this United Rugby Championship basement battle.
It looked as though Dean Ryan’s team were going to claim their third league win of the campaign when they turned around a 11-6 half-time deficit to lead 18-11 out in Parma thanks to tries from scrum-half Lewis Jones and wing Jared Rosser.
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But they then had Rosser and fly-half Sam Davies sin-binned in the space of two minutes, with Irish referee Chris Busby awarding a penalty try following Davies’ indiscretion, which saw the scores levelled. Down to 13 men, the Dragons dug in but just before they were about to be re-inforced their resistance finally broke when winger Simone Gesi went over out on the left. With just five minutes left on the clock, there was to be no way back for the visitors.
The final whistle signalled scenes of jubilation among the Zebre players who had lost all 18 of their previous games this season – 14 in the URC and four in the Challenge Cup. For the Dragons, it’s a real body blow result, with their indiscipline costing them dearly.
After an exchange of penalties between Davies and opposite number Antonio Rizzi, it was the home side that claimed the opening try on 23 minutes when Test hooker Luca Bigi Zebre rounded off a maul that had rolled remorselessly to the line.
Trailing by five points at the break, the Dragons turned things around with two tries in the space of five minutes just past the hour mark. First winger Rio Dyer sliced through out on the right before giving the inside scoring pass to replacement scrum-half Lewis Jones. Then slick hands released Jared Rosser down the left touchline and he stepped inside the last man to run around under the posts.
But, on 63 minutes, Rosser went from hero to villain when he was yellow carded for lifting an opponent above the horizontal and dumping him on his back over the touchline And, a minute later, Sam Davies followed him to the bin for kicking the ball out of a Zebre player’s hands while on the deck near his own try-line. Referee Busby deemed it a cynical act and, after reviewing the replays, decided it had prevented a probable score, so gave a penalty try.
It was left to Gesi to produce the final decisive moment as the Dragons’ depleted defence was finally breached on what was a memorable day for Zebre and a dark one for their guests from Wales.