Leinster 50 Dragons 15
Seán McMahon reporting from the RDS.
Leinster continued their dominance in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 as they produced a ruthless eight-try bonus-point victory at the RDS in difficult conditions.
There were first PRO14 starts for Harry Byrne and Ryan Baird as the duo produced excellent performances which will just add to the selection headache head coach Leo Cullen will feel over the coming weeks as his international contingent are welcomed back into the fold.
Byrne, in particular, impressed throughout as he managed the wet conditions very well to guide his team around the park and a memorable evening went one better as he managed to get over for a first-half try after identifying space in the Dragons backline. All of this resulted in a desevered man-of-the-match award.
Leinster dominated possession early on and their first attack in the opening minutes looked promising as they went through multiple phases and got over the gain line through some dominant carries from the likes of Rónan Kelleher and Baird but the dangerous-looking move ultimately came to nothing as Max Deegan knocked on under little pressure.
The eastern province responded moments later but the ball was spilled forward again, this time from Jimmy O’Brien as the men in blue stuggled initally in the greasy conditions.
Dragons tighthead Leon Brown was penalised for his bind during a scrum and this allowed Leinster to kick to the corner as they searched for that opening try.
This time the men in blue made the most of the opportunity as a powerful maul was stopped just short before a number of close-range carries resulted in Michael Bent powering over for the opening try of the game after 10 minutes. Byrne, on his first start in the Guinness PRO14, was wide with his conversion attempt.
The Welsh side did respond but some thumping hits from Kelleher and Caelan Doris kept them at bay in addition to some excellent defensive work from Devin Toner who was captaining his side for just the second time.
Eventually, Leinster gave away a penalty at the breakdown and this allowed Sam Davies to kick his side’s first points to bring it back to a two-point game at the midway stage of the first half.
That penalty from Davies woke Leinster from their slumber as Rory O’Loughlin carried near the touchline before he passed the ball to Scott Penny, the young flanker then produced a nice pass over the top to the supporting Dave Kearney who ran in untouched for Leinster’s second try of the game. Byrne’s conversion was accurate this time to give Leinster a 12-3 lead at the midway point of the first half.
Toner continued to provide vital defensive contributions as he snatched a Dragons lineout inside his side’s own 22 but Dean Ryan’s side came back again with another lineout and this time they were able to generate some sustained momentum in the Leinster half.
This led to a penalty advantage and when an offload went to ground, an attempted hack clearance ricocheted and bounced kindly for Dragons fullback Jordan Williams to collect and dot down in the corner.
Davies’ touchline conversion attempt was wide of the posts but with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, the Dragons clawed their way back within four points of the reigning champions.
Just like Davies’ penalty earlier in the half, that Dragons score resulted in a reaction from the home side as Leo Cullen’s men produced a sublime setpiece move off a scrum to bring play deep into the Dragons’ 22. Leinster were consistently getting over the gain line through some strong carries until Byrne, on his first start for Leinster, spotted a gap and strolled through to dot down next to the posts as Leinster went into the sheds at halftime with a deserved 19-8 lead.
On the resumption, it didn’t take long for Leinster to secure the bonus-point. Baird rose highest to collect a lineout and set up a powerful rolling maul which the Dragons couldn’t stop. It was Kelleher who had the opportunity to dot down at the base for a well-worked try.
Just three minutes later, the RDS crowd were lifted out of their seats as Byrne produced a brilliantly-executed crossfield kick for Kearney. The experienced winger collected and passed to a supporting Conor O’Brien as the inside centre then offloaded to Penny who sucked in some defenders before passing back to Kearney. The 30-year-old was able to slalom his way through a desperate Dragons defence to score his side’s fifth try of the game.
Leinster made it six on the 60-minute mark as O’Brien ran flat to the line and offloaded to James Lowe and the Kiwi winger was able to run in 35 metres untouched. O’Brien was hit very late as he released Lowe which may be something that is looked at retrospectively after the game.
With the result of this match a formality, the Dragons became their own worst enemy as out-half Davies attempted to collect a grubber kick but could only spill it backwards which allowed replacement scrum-half, Hugh O’Sullivan, the easiest of opportunities to collect and score his first try for Leinster.
As champion sides typically are, Leinster were ruthless. A really poor knock-on from Williams allowed James Lowe to collect and run in for another simple try untouched.
Leinster emptied their bench in the closing stages and with the clock in the red, the Dragons were able to manage a consolation score as Owen Jenkins crossed in the corner to finish a miserable night in Dublin for the visitors.
Tries: Michael Bent, Dave Kearney (x2), Harry Byrne, Rónan Kelleher, James Lowe (x2), Hugh O’Sullivan
Conversions: Harry Byrne [5/8]
Tries: Jordan Williams, Owen Jenkins
Conversions: Sam Davies [1/2]
Penalties: Sam Davies [1/1]
Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien, Dave Kearney, Rory O’Loughlin (Kelleher 65′), Conor O’Brien, James Lowe, Harry Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park, Peter Dooley (Milne 53′), Rónan Kelleher (Tracy 53′), Michael Bent (Aungier 53′), Devin Toner (c) (Molony 58′), Ryan Baird, Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Caelan Doris (Connors 70′).
Replacements: James Tracy, Michael Milne, Jack Aungier, Ross Molony, Will Connors, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciarán Frawley, Cian Kelleher.
Dragons: Jordan Williams, Owen Jenkins, Adam Warren, Connor Edwards (Morgan 48′), Ashton Hewitt, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (c), Brok Harris (Reynolds 74′), Richard Hibbard (Shipp 70′), Leon Brown (Fairbrother 70′), Joe Davies, Matthew Screech (Williams 66′), Harri Keddie, Taine Basham, Huw Taylor.
Replacements: Ellis Shipp, Josh Reynolds, Lloyd Fairbrother, Max Williams, James Benjamin, Luke Baldwin, Arwel Robson, Tyler Morgan.