Benetton fashion a winning start with defeat of Dragons at Rodney Parade

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Benetton started the Guinness PRO14 campaign with an impressive win on the road after overpowering the Dragons 21-17 at Rodney Parade.

The Italians had a superb 2017/18 campaign featuring 11 wins from 21 games and they signalled their intent with a fine triumph in Newport.

Tries by lock Alessandro Zanni (2) and flanker Braam Steyn earned the win after the Dragons, who had hoped to start the season with a bang after winning just twice last year, came flying out of the blocks.

The Welsh region made a dream start when wing Dafydd Howells, a summer signing from the Ospreys, picked off a Benetton pass to race over from 30 metres after just 69 seconds.

Fly-half Gavin Henson converted only for the Italians to respond swiftly, kicking penalties to the corner for lock Alessandro Zanni to be driven over to make it 7-5 in the seventh minute.

The fierce contest settled down but the Dragons should have had their second try on 20 minutes, only for Howells to drop a pass with the line at his mercy.

The Dragons missed another chance when they made a mess of a five-metre lineout and instead of moving further clear, they saw the Italians go 11-7 ahead after 32 minutes up thanks to a pair of penalties by fly-half Tommaso Allan.

The Welsh side ended the half on the attack but their frustration grew when Rhodri Williams opted for a quick tap rather than three points inside the 22, only for the ball to be knocked on.

At 11-7 down the Dragons needed a boost early in the second half and they got one, Henson knocking over a close-range penalty to reduce the gap.

However, they were straight back under pressure with Benetton attempting to muscle their way over from a series of five-metres scrums and through their imposing pack.

The pressure was too much for the Dragons and flanker Braam Steyn powered over down the right.

Allan missed the conversion but the Italians were soon further ahead thanks to a strong carry by centre Alberto Sgarbi into the 22 that saw Zanni cross down the left from his offload, making it 21-10 with 57 minutes gone.

The Dragons were somehow still in the game and they scented an escape when scrum-half Williams darted over with five minutes left, fly-half Josh Lewis converting to cut the gap to 21-17.

The hosts tried desperately to conjure a winner from deep but fell short, Benetton deservedly holding on for four points.

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