Street­wise Blues bring the power to burn off Jack­man’s Dragons

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SPORT | RUGBY - ROD­NEY PA­RADE

THE brave new dawn of the new Guin­ness PRO14 be­gan in im­pres­sive fash­ion for Leinster as they recorded a bonus-point vic­tory over the Dragons. At the heart of their suc­cess was Leo Cullen’s tight five, who were sim­ply too big, too pow­er­ful and too street­wise for their op­po­nents in Newport.

Leinster scored tries through Jami­son Gib­son-Park, a penalty score, Jor­dan Lar­mour, Dan Leavy and Cathal Marsh, and out-half Ross Byrne looked com­posed from the tee to kick two con­ver­sions and two penal­ties.

Dragons were awarded a penalty try of their own and Gavin Henson kicked three penal­ties, but Leinster de­served to win as they started what they hope will be a tilt at ti­tle glory this year.

Cullen’s men fell be­hind to a Henson penalty, but af­ter Byrne re­sponded with three points of his own, the vis­i­tors woke up. Skip­per Isa Nacewa danced into space and although the ball was held up over the line, Gib­son-Park did well to pick the ball up from the re­sult­ing scrum to dummy an stretch over.

Dragons felt James Thomas had been blocked in the build-up, but the try was given and Byrne added the ex­tras. Af­ter strug­gling to get go­ing early on, Leinster’s in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in the pack was the dif­fer­ence be­tween the teams, with Devin Toner show­ing up par­tic­u­larly well.

The Dragons, to their credit, re­fused to go away and a penalty apiece for Henson and Byrne gave Leinster a 13-6 in­ter­val ad­van­tage.

That lead was quickly ex­tended on the re­sump­tion. First, the Dragons pulled down a driv­ing maul from a li­ne­out close to their line and ref­eree Mike Adam­son felt he had no other op­tion than to award a penalty try. The con­ver­sion was au­to­matic and with Matthew Screech sin-binned for try­ing to il­le­gally pre­vent the score, the Dragons were in trou­ble.

Five min­utes later, more power from the Leinster pack gave them the plat­form from which wing Lar­mour strolled over un­op­posed to put a dag­ger in the Dragons’ hearts. Byrne couldn’t con­vert, but it meant the game was up for the home side de­spite Henson’s third suc­cess­ful kick.

Dragons coach — and for­mer Leinster hooker — Bernard Jack­man rang the changes in search of a re­sponse. An­gus O’Brien was in­tro­duced at out-half with Henson switch­ing to cen­tre, but Leinster’s dom­i­na­tion of the gain­line meant they still had the up­per hand.

Leavy was driven over for the cru­cial fourth try, and Byrne con­verted. By that stage the re­sult had long since been de­cided, and the Dragons weren’t helped by los­ing re­place­ment scrum-half Tavis Knoyle to in­jury.

In an end-to-end final quar­ter, both sides scored fur­ther tries. Dragons wing Ash­ton He­witt tore down the left and was tack­led high by Adam Byrne. Adam­son rightly awarded a penalty try which was worth a straight seven points and sent Byrne to the bin.

Leinster, though, had to have the last laugh. Marsh, who had re­placed Ross Byrne, was the sur­prise man to emerge with the ball af­ter be­ing driven over the line and the util­ity back con­verted his own score to send Leinster’s small band of hardy trav­el­ling fans home happy.

Scor­ers — Dragons: Penalty try, Henson 3 pens. Leinster: Gib­son-Park, Lar­mour, Leavy, Marsh, tries, penalty try, R Byrne

2 cons, 2 pens, Marsh con.

Dragons: Kirch­ner; He­witt, Mor­gan, Dixon (O’Brien 54), Amos; Henson, Davies (Knoyle 54, (Rosser 67); Har­ris (Gar­rett 54), Dee (Buck­ley 67), Brown (Fair­brother 50), Screech (Land­man 54), Hill (capt), Thomas (Wil­liams 71), Ben­jamin, Ked­die.

Leinster: Kear­ney; A Byrne, R O’Lough­lin, Nacewa (capt), Lar­mour (Daly 67); R Byrne (Marsh 72), Gib­son-Park (McCarthy 61); Healy (E Byrne 50), Cronin (Tracy 50), Bent (Porter 50), Toner (Ryan 59), Fardy, Van der Flier, Dee­gan (Co­nan 55).

Ref­eree: Mike Adam­son (SRU).

Seán Cronin looks to lead a break for Leinster dur­ing yesterday’s Guin­ness PRO14 match at Rod­ney Pa­rade in Newport. Photo: Ram­sey Cardy

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