Match report: Dragons Rugby 29 Leinster Rugby 35
Match report: Dragons Rugby 29 Leinster Rugby 35
February 19, 2021 / Conor Sharkey
Leinster Rugby maintained their hold on top spot in Conference ‘A’ of the Guinness PRO14 with a bonus-point defeat of Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday evening.
The hosts looked to make a positive start only for scrum-half Rhodri Williams to put the ball out on the full, handing James Tracy an attacking lineout 35 metres out.
Josh Murphy collected the hooker’s throw and Jack Conan was quickly into the game on his 100th cap for the club.
A case of confused running lines handed possession back to Dragons and indiscipline at the lineout cost Leinster more ground.
A battle of attrition ensued on the gain line. This time, the home side transgressed when their number eight Huw Taylor obstructed fringe defenders.
A burst from Ryan Baird prompted a sequence of offloads that signalled The Blues intent, the ball spilling loose only for half-back Williams to kick the ball dead.
The Welsh boys were leaning into their maul as a primary weapon on a heavy surface without the accompanying kicking strategy to reap the rewards.
That wasn’t likely to last as long as Leinster were loose, the scrum giving up a penalty before Conan stole a lineout.
Then, Cian Kelleher was alert to a dropped ball and Harry Byrne swooped to the rescue from Sam Davies chip ahead as Leinster were forced to compete from inside their own half.
The Dragons were playing on advantage and Davies settled for the lead points in the 16th minute.
Winger Kelleher took Jordan Williams a split-second early and Davies struck to double the lead in the 19th minute.
From a scrum in midfield, referee Ben Whitehouse judged the Leinster front row guilty of dropping the engagement, Davies going three from three for 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The first time Leinster got deep into their phase game, the ball moved through the hands of backs and forwards, loose forwards Murphy and Conan and centre Rory O’Loughlin driving them to within five metres.
Second row Ross Molony pumped his legs and prop Peter Dooley drove to the posts from Tracy’s pop pass for a try, converted by Ross Byrne in the 24th minute.
However, from the restart, Tom Clarkson was chopped by centre Jack Dixon and flanker Ben Fry was smartly into the breakdown to force a penalty, Davies notching his fourth three-pointer.
A fine Harry Byrne punt from a penalty-to-touch put Leinster hot on the attack again, Ryan Baird providing the ball off the top.
Conan, Clarkson and Molony began a barrage of carries ending in Scott Penny’s low drive to the line for Ross Byrne to grab the lead for the first time from the conversion.
Leinster were better from the next restart, Conan and Dooley going forward and Kelleher brilliantly capturing Luke McGrath’s exit kick.
Full-back Max O’Reilly dealt well with a difficult ball and Penny was cool-headed close to his line from Ashton Hewitt’s teasing kick.
There followed a period of sustained pressure in which Leinster never looked in danger of breaking, Davies dispatching his fifth kick for illegal ruck work in the 37th-minute.
Back-to-back penalties conceded by Leinster at the scrum and the lineout made for one last Dragons assault from a maul.
But, flanker Fry’s touchdown was ruled out when obstruction was spotted by referee Whitehouse, leaving the Welsh 15-14 in front at the interval.
There was a cagey opening to the second-half as kicks were exchanged before Kelleher’s quick-thinking almost cracked the Dragons defence.
Josh Murphy’s one-two with Luke McGrath on the fringes was nullified when Fry turned over another penalty on Max O’Reilly.
Ross Byrne’s exquisite angled ball inside the 22 was complemented by Baird nicking Richard Hibbard’s lineout.
Leinster went into overdrive, O’Reilly testing centre Aneurin Owen’s defence and the relentless recycles drawing a yellow card for tight-head Lloyd Fairbrother.
The Irish province opted for a tap penalty from five metres out, Tracy leading the charge and Josh Murphy squeezing for the third try, converted by Ross Byrne in the 49th minute.
A tremendous counter by Leinster’s back row of Penny, Murphy and Conan carried play inside Dragons’ half where Ross Byrne’s grubber turned Jordan Williams and Dave Kearney snapped into the breakdown to force a penalty.
They were not exactly foot-perfect from there, losing ground through a malfunction at the lineout. However, they stayed in the right area of the field.
Clarkson powered up a penalty at the scrum and Ross Molony claimed a lineout to spark a quick surge for a penalty try and the bonus-point.
Worse again, replacement Dan Baker was binned for his work there as the champions moved ahead 28-15 in the 56th minute.
The visitors defended soundly until Harry Byrne’s relieving kick into space caused full-back Williams to knock-on.
Scrum-half McGrath was the architect of Leinster’s fifth, Dan Sheehan taking the ball on to side-step Williams in a superb effort for Ross Byrne to convert for 35-15 in the 64th minute.
At this time, 20-year-old Kildare loose-head Marcus Hannan made his entrance for a first cap, joining another Leinster Clubs prop in Wexfordman Greg McGrath in the front row.
The Dragons didn’t ease off, even though they were a beaten docket, and Luke Baldwin finished from close range for Davies to add the extras in the 72nd minute.
Coach Leo Cullen won’t be too happy with how Dragons added a second try by Josh Lewis, converted by Davies, to earn a losing bonus-point in the last minute.