Cronin, Kearney keep Leinster motoring
Ian Madigan is tackled by Dragons' Patrick Leach and Jack Dixon. The Leinster outhalf scored landed three of his four attempts at goal at Rodney Parade. Photograph: Huw Evans/Inpho
Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Leinster 26:Leinster consolidated their place in the RaboDirect Pro12 play-off zone with a bonus point win against struggling Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade that edged them closer to leaders Ulster after Benetton Treviso snatched a draw at Ravenhill.
The European champions ran in four tries, two each for Seán Cronin and Dave Kearney, at Rodney Parade to record their eighth victory on the spin.
Leinster were bolstered by the presence of fullback Luke Fitzgerald, scrumhalf Eoin Reddan, hooker Cronin and lock Devin Toner, who five days earlier had been on Six Nations bench duty for Ireland against Scotland.
And they proved far too strong for the Dragons, who had won four of their last five matches in all competitions but never looked like derailing Leinster’s play-off push.
The hosts had suffered a 60-3 humiliation at the hands of second-placed Glasgow in their last home outing and although this defeat did not plumb those depths, they were outclassed.
It took just 50 seconds for the visitors to cross the whitewash with Cronin barging over down the left for a try which Ian Madigan converted.
Dragons outhalf Steffan Jones kicked a penalty but Cronin scored a replica of his first try to make it 12-3 before seven minutes were on the clock.
Leinster had their bonus point well within sight when Kearney was put over down the right on 18 minutes following a powerful Rhys Ruddock run, Madigan again converting. But, despite centre Jack Dixon being sin-binned for a breakdown infringement, the hosts finally managed to stem the tide.
And it was 19-9 as the teams headed for the changing rooms courtesy of Jones adding a penalty and a smart drop goal for the Dragons.
Suddenly the hosts had the momentum and when number eight Ieuan Jones crossed just a minute after the restart the home crowd were scenting a remarkable comeback. But Leinster took a few deep breaths and composed themselves. They laid siege to the Dragons’ line and the pressure eventually told with the bonus point score, Kearney the beneficiary of an overlap down the right.
Madigan converted majestically and at 26-14 the wind was taken out of the hosts’ sails.
Leinster, who headed into the game as the league’s top points scorers, went on the search for more tries.
However, it was the Dragons who had the final say with Steffan Jones reaching out over the line with the last play to ensure the Pro12 strugglers did at least get a bonus point for their efforts.