Dan Evans’ first-half try against his former club proved decisive as the Newport Gwent Dragons held off a Scarlets fight back to force a dramatic 23-16 win in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Coming into the all-Welsh clash the Scarlets had won their last ten league clashes against these opponents but tries from Phil Price and Evans in the first half put the hosts 17-3 to the good.
But back came the visitors, who had not lost to the Dragons since New Year’s Day 2008, as Scott Williams’ try and the boot of Rhys Priestland closed the gap to one point.
The Dragons held firm however and late penalties from Jason Tovey and Tom Prydie ensured the Dragons sealed their third successive victory at Rodney Parade in the competition despite some incredible pressure at the end.
The hosts came roaring out the blocks and were 3-0 to the good courtesy of a fine long range penalty by Prydie with only three minutes on the clock.
Moments later and Prydie looked to have gone over in the right corner for the first try of the match but a fantastic covering tackle by Priestland dragged the winger’s feet into touch, confirmed by the TMO and the try was not awarded.
But relentless Dragons pressure on the try-line from the subsequent lineout saw them force a five-metre scrum after Toby Faletau charged down Priestland’s attempted clearance.
And with a penalty advantage to play with it was Price who eventually burrowed over, benefiting from a sweet offload from his fellow prop Nahuel Chaparro.
Tovey then added the tricky conversion from the left touchline and the Dragons were flying, 10-0 up with only 12 minutes on the clock.
The Scarlets needed a foot hold in the game and they got it through Priestland, the fly-half slotting a simple penalty as the Dragons went offside at the breakdown.
But that was merely a brief respite as Rodney Parade went wild after the Dragons second try.
Faletau appeared to have messed up the opening when his Lions teammate Jonathan Davies clobbered him with a massive overlap outside.
But the ball was recycled and full-back Evans scythed through to touch down against his former club, the Tovey conversion making it 17-3 with only a quarter of the game gone.
The game was being played at a breakneck speed with offloads and knock-ons in equal measure as both sides looked to keep the ball in hand.
Ken Owens came close to redressing the balance with a fine break but after the ball failed to find a teammate they had to settle for a penalty, Priestland again on target to make it 17-6 with half an hour gone.
And still the game refused to slow down, Hallam Amos bundled into touch by Rob McCusker as the Dragons came painfully close before Lions hero Davies was scragged metres short at the other end.
But the pressure soon told and the Scarlets had their first try of the night as Scott Williams took the inside ball from his centre partner Davies and jinked over, Priestland’s conversion making it 17-13 at the break.
Five minutes after the break and the seemingly inevitable Scarlets comeback was well underway, Priestland’s fourth penalty of the evening closing the gap to 17-16.
The Dragons were now clinging on in the face of concerted pressure from the away side as Liam Williams broke clear but could not get over and Priestland was just wide with long-range penalty, his first miss of the night.
And in a rare foray into the opposition half they got some much needed breathing room when Tovey slotted a penalty to extend the lead to 20-16.
That penalty definitely restored the home side’s confidence and woke up the crowd again and as the hour mark came up the Scarlets were struggling to get out of their own half.
And when they did the final pass was just lacking, Priestland again bursting clear but failing to find a telling ball with the try-line beckoning.
And the monster boot of Prydie continued to punish their Welsh rivals, the winger bisecting the posts from miles out with ten minutes remaining.
Scarlets fought hard in the closing stages and a series of dominant scrums on the Dragons try-line meant Nigel Owens must have been weighing up a penalty try.
But the outstanding Dragons refused to buckle and held on for a dramatic win in the face of mounting pressure deep into added time, Faletau punting out to provoke raucous celebrations.