Benetton Rugby secured a 37-25 Guinness Pro14 bonus-point win and condemned the Dragons to a first home defeat in all competitions since November.
The Dragons had scrum-half Rhodri Williams, full-back Will Talbot-Davies and replacement hooker Elliot Dee to thank for tries, with stand-off Jacob Botica kicking two penalties and a conversion, while his replacement Arwel Robson added one conversion.
Benetton hit the home side with a sucker punch within five minutes as a well-worked move down the left saw Esposito link with flanker Federico Ruzza for the back rower to send Sperandio in from 22 metres. Keatley converted.
And it soon got worse for the Welsh region as the home pack were outmuscled from an attacking maul and Baravalle emerged from the floor over the home line, Keatley kicking the extras.
But the Dragons began to chip away at the 14-0 lead as Benetton started to make mistakes within kickable distance for Botica.
The New Zealand-born fly-half punished the Italians from thirty metres and added another three points on 22 minutes with a 20-metre chip over the posts.
Benetton flexed their muscles again, almost getting a third try only to be stopped by a thumping tackle near the line before another Dragons mistake allowed Keatley to kick a penalty.
Just as it seemed the Dragons would turn around way down, a audacious sprint from half-way by prop forward Josh Reynolds cut the Italians apart. As he ran out of steam, Williams was on his shoulder to race over under the posts making Botica’s conversion a formality.
A minute after the break and Esposito raced 40 metres through Botica’s poor tackle attempt to the line, with a simple Keatley conversion to follow.
It did not help the Dragons cause either that flanker Harrison Keddie went to the sin bin for a no-arms tackle.
Two more Keatley penalties took Benetton up to 30 points and it all seemed done and dusted.
Yet a kick to the corner saw Esposito fumble the ball under pressure from wing Ashton Hewitt for Talbot-Davies to pick up and fall over the line. A touchline conversion by Robson made it a 10-point game going into the final minutes.
But Faiva’s converted try put the game to bed and Dee’s late touchdown was only a consolation.
– Press Association
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