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