Sean McMahon reports from the RDS
Leinster recorded a bonus-point win over the Dragons at the RDS to mark their return to their home ground for the first time this season.
Two converted tries in the first half and a penalty gave the eastern province a 17-0 lead at halftime. Sean Cronin and Josh van der Flier, on his first game back from injury, got the two crucial first-half tries.
Ross Moriarty was shown a yellow card at the end of the first half for a late shoulder charge on Johnny Sexton and this moment proved crucial as Van der Flier went over from the very next play.
The Dragons were down to 14 men for the opening 10 minutes of the second half due to Moriarty’s indiscipline, and it proved costly as Leinster got their third try with that man advantage when Gibson-Park went over after 44 minutes. Gibson-Park turned creator when his kick allowed Larmour to collect and crash over in the corner to secure the bonus point just minutes later.
Further tries from Gibson-Park, Tadhg Furlong and Scott Fardy were completely deserved as Leinster showed the gulf in class between these two sides.
Leinster kicked off into a decent breeze and it didn’t take long for the RDS faithful to get up off their seats as Jamison Gibson-Park and Jordan Larmour combined up the right touchline to bring possession deep within the Dragons’ 22. However, like many opportunities throughout the first-half, final decision making was lacking. In this case, Sexton put up a cross-field up and under which ultimately went out on the full.
Larmour, Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Sean Cronin were all heavily involved during the open stages of the match as they contributed to some exciting backline moves which cut the Dragons open on numerous occasions.
Leinster got their first try after nine minutes when Gibson-Park popped the ball to an onrushing Cronin. Cronin’s speed, acceleration and footwork were enough to get him over the line past a despairing Dragons defence.
It took 20 minutes for Leinster to get their next score and much of that was down to a combination of poor Leinster execution and a determined, if not dogged, Dragons defence.
The Welsh side’s discipline was becoming an issue and it was an infringement at the ruck which allowed Sexton to add three points after 31 minutes.
The Dragons then had two good opportunities themselves to get their first points of the game but they were thwarted by an excellent Andrew Porter turnover on his own try line, and then Henshaw put in a superb covering tackle to dislodge the ball from one of his opponents.
Leinster got that crucial second try on the stroke of halftime when the home side had a scrum five metres out from their opponents’ try line. Jack Conan, who returned from a HIA (head injury assessment), picked the ball up from the base of the scrum and fired a reverse pass to Josh van der Flier who went over for a try on his return to a blue shirt from injury.
This try was preceded by a yellow card for Ross Moriarty due to a late shoulder charge on Sexton.
A penalty from Josh Lewis got the Dragons off the mark as the second half began, but the home side soon put this result out of the question when they scored two quick-fire tries – with Gibson-Park crucial to both moves.
On 49 minutes, the Kiwi scrum-half was on the receiving end of a superb offload from James Ryan and he ran in for Leinster’s third try untouched. Minutes later he made a line break for himself and his kick through allowed Larmour to chase, collect and crash over in the corner to secure the bonus-point.
Leinster brought on three fresh front row players at once in the form of Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley and Tadhg Furlong. This immediately paid dividends as the home side won a scrum against the head deep within Dragons territory. Leinster elected to scrum again and after a few phases, Gibson-Park picked and went from the base of the ruck and crashed over thanks to a helpful shove from Furlong.
At the midway point, it was 38-3 to the home side and things were looking bleak. However, Jordan Williams scored the try of the match and even the RDS crowd loudly applauded the effort. Williams picked up the ball on the halfway line and danced his way through multiple tackle attempts to score to the right of the posts.
This was a case of angering the beast though as Leinster got their sixth try soon after when Furlong powered over after receiving a pop pass from the superb Gibson-Park.
Just before the game concluded, the eastern province got over for their seventh try of the game when Scott Fardy broke through some last-ditch tackles from close range.
The Dragons huffed and puffed in the final seconds but the Leinster defence held out to force the turnover and end proceedings to a huge roar from the home crowd.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw (Tomane 65′), Dave Kearney, Johnny Sexton (Reid 65′), Jamison Gibson-Park (O’Sullivan 67′), Ed Byrne (Dooley 52′), Seán Cronin (Byrne 52′), Andrew Porter (Furlong 52′), Scott Fardy, James Ryan (Molony 65′), Max Deegan, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Doris HIA 26′ Conan 35′ Doris 75′)
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Caelen Doris, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Joe Tomane
Referee: Quinton Immelman [SARU]