Leinster’s bid to reach the GUINNESS PRO12 play-offs suffered a serious setback this afternoon as James Benjamin’s two-try salvo drove the Newport Gwent Dragons to a memorable comeback victory…
The defending league champions built up a 22-8 lead through tries from Ben Te'o (2) and Jimmy Gopperth, but they allowed the Dragons to dictate matters during Te'o's sin-bin period in the final quarter.
Just minutes after a Jack Dixon score, Te'o saw yellow for a shoulder-led challenge on Hallam Amos and the hosts took full advantage. Eoin Reddan's attempted clearance was charged down by Toby Faletau and replacement James Benjamin was on hand to score his first try of the afternoon.
He followed up with his second in the 72nd minute, further Leinster errors inviting the Dragons forward and a quick recycle from a ground-gaining Faletau carry put Benjamin over in the left corner.
Jason Tovey missed both conversions but they were not needed as the visitors, despite dominating possession late on, were unable to puncture a tightened-up Dragons defence in a tense climax.
With the men of Gwent holding on to complete a first ever season's double over Leinster, Matt O'Connor's charges are now eight points behind the fourth-placed Ospreys with three rounds remaining.
Tovey fired the Dragons into a fourth minute lead, punishing Jack McGrath for a scrum offence, before Te'o signalled his and Leinster's intent with a powerful midfield run.
However, Dorian Jones, with a strong wind behind him, found a terrific touch from a penalty inside the Dragons half. With Leinster infringing at the resulting maul five metres out, the Welsh region kicked again to the corner with the drive setting up a try for hooker and captain Rhys Thomas.
Tovey missed the difficult conversion and Gordon D'Arcy and Zane Kirchner led Leinster's response, with Jordi Murphy making his presence felt as a replacement for sidelined skipper Shane Jennings.
Gopperth got the visitors off the mark with an 18th minute penalty for offside, but a wayward kick for the corner from the Kiwi left the Dragons off the hook from a subsequent Leinster penalty.
Martin Moore won an important ruck penalty at the other end of the pitch following a snappy break from Dragons scrum half Jonathan Evans. Leinster found it hard to break down the well-organised Dragons defence, but they began to find more holes during the second quarter.
Jack Conan and Darragh Fanning used their physicality to get the visitors over the gain-line and impressive pace from lock Ben Marshall brought his side right back into scoring range.
Lyn Jones' men held out until the 37th minute when the hard-running Te'o found a way past both centre Dixon and out-half Jones to score to the left of the posts. The try, which was unconverted, came on the back of some strong carrying from D'Arcy and Conan once more.
Leinster added a timely second try just before the break, Gopperth doing all the damage himself as he darted past prop Phil Price, evaded the clutches of Evans and took Tom Prydie with him over the try-line on a brilliant 40-metre surge. He added the extras for a 15-8 interval lead.
It got even better for the Blues in the 49th minute when their two opening try scorers combined for try number three. Gopperth provided an inviting pass for Te'o to take on and split open the Dragons midfield again – he evaded Tyler Morgan's tackle and handing off Jones to race away from just inside the 10-metre line.
Te'o's third try in as many league games was converted by Gopperth. The hope was that Leinster would kick on in search of the bonus point score, but the Dragons knuckled down and began to make inroads in the visitors' 22.
It took some excellent work from prop Moore at the breakdown to win a relieving Leinster penalty, only for the Dragons to quickly build pressure again through their effective maul. A flat pass then released Dixon to crash over past Gopperth and D'Arcy for a deserved seven-pointer.
Te'o's yellow card, which required the input of TMO Derek Bevan, allowed the Dragons to set up camp in the Leinster half and hunt for further scores. The visitors scrambled well despite conceding further penalties.
The pressure told on the 14 men, however, when Faletau managed to block Reddan's kick at the side of a ruck in the Leinster 22 and the loose ball fell for the well-placed Benjamin to score.
Although Tovey failed to deliver the levelling conversion, a series of Leinster mistakes, including some loose kicking out of hand and knock-ons, kept the Dragons in the right areas of the pitch.
They made the extra man count with the match-winning try, a solid scrum in the Leinster 22 allowing Faletau to attack off the base and the ball was flung wide for Benjamin to go over unopposed for the game's decisive score.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS SCORERS: R. Thomas (1 try), J. Dixon (1 try), J. Benjamin (2 tries), J. Tovey (1 conversion and 1 penalty)
LEINSTER SCORERS: B. Te'o (2 tries), J. Gopperth (1 try, 2 conversions and 1 penalty)
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Jason Tovey; Tom Prydie, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos; Dorian Jones, Jonathan Evans; Phil Price, Rhys Thomas CAPTAIN, Brok Harris, James Thomas, Cory Hill, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Toby Faletau.
REPLACEMENTS: Rhys Buckley, Luke Garrett, Dan Way, Matthew Screech, James Benjamin, Luc Jones, Carl Meyer, Geraint Rhys Jones.
15. Zane Kirchner
14. Dave Kearney
13. Ben Te'o
12. Gordon D'Arcy
11. Darragh Fanning (Luke Fitzgerald, 73)
10. Jimmy Gopperth
9. Eoin Reddan (Luke McGrath, 76)
1. Jack McGrath (Michael Bent, 73)
2. Richardt Strauss (Aaron Dundon, 51-59)
3. Martin Moore (Tadhg Furlong, 59)
4. Ben Marshall
5. Mike McCarthy (Ross Molony, 62)
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Shane Jennings CAPTAIN (Jordi Murphy, 13)
8. Jack Conan
REPLACEMENT NOT USED: Noel Reid.
REFEREE: Marius Mitrea (FIR); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Ben Whitehouse, Sean Brickell (both WRU); CITING COMMISSIONER: Dennis Jones (WRU); TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU).