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Wasteful Dragons give Lions a scare in Johannesburg

By PA
Henco van Wyk of the Lions in action during the United Rugby Championship match between The Dragons and The Lions at Rodney Parade on May 21, 2022 in Newport, Wales. (Photo by Huw Fairclough/Getty Images)

The Dragons were made to rue wasted opportunities as they suffered their first defeat in three matches in a battling 33-25 United Rugby Championship loss at the hands of the Lions in Johannesburg.

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Prior to Sunday’s fixture, the hosts had won all three of their away fixtures but suffered defeats in each of their three matches at Emirates Airline Park.

The Dragons failed to make the most of an early Lions yellow card, and Ruhan Straeuli’s try combined with 14 points from the boot of Jordan Hendrikse had the home side 19-6 up at the interval.

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Sio Tomkinson went over with the Lions down to 14 men again early in the second period, but Hendrikse’s touchdown kept the visitors at arm’s length.

James Benjamin’s try showed the Dragons were still in the fight, but JP Smith effectively wrapped up the win and Che Hope’s late score served only as consolation, as the Welsh region fell just short of a bonus point.

A pair of Hendrikse penalties, either side of a Sam Davies effort, gave the Lions an early lead.

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However, it was the visitors who were arguably enjoying the better of possession, and the Lions had Emmanuel Tshituka sin-binned for a trip after 15 minutes.

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Davies, who had played a central role in a move that saw the Dragons get agonisingly close to the Lions’ line just prior to Tshituka’s departure, then added his second penalty to pull the scores level.

Hendrikse then sent over a drop goal in the 28th minute, before Quan Horn’s 50:22 gave the Lions territory that ultimately led to the game’s first try.

Ross Moriarty saw yellow for collapsing a maul and Straeuli eventually crashed over to open up some daylight on the scoreboard, with Hendrikse’s conversion and a subsequent penalty making it 19-6 at the break.

The Lions lost Henco van Wyk to the sin bin early in the second half after his shoulder made contact with the head of Joe Davies.

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The Dragons quickly made their hosts pay, with Tomkinson collecting Sam Davies’ cross-kick to go over in the corner.

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The fly-half was unable to add the extras and the Lions re-established their cushion when Hendrikse went twisting and turning over the line before converting his own score.

Moriarty was dispossessed at the crucial moment as a promising Dragons move came to nothing, before Aki Seiuli failed to keep hold of the ball as he leapt over a ruck on the Lions’ line.

Benjamin eventually crossed for the Dragons’ second try from a maul, and JJ Hanrahan’s conversion had the Welsh region within eight.

The match looked all but won when Smith burrowed over soon after, with Gianni Lombard adding the extras, but there was still time for Hope to touch down and Hanrahan to make it 33-25.

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Jon 2 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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