Concussions and officiating make for bad day out for Leinster
Dragons stun defending champions at RDS as three home players suffer head injuries
Leinster’s Dave Kearney scores a try during the Guinness Pro 12 match against Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho
Leinster 14 Dragons 16
Three more concussions at the RDS as Leinster went down to the Dragons in the Guinness Pro 12, the most worrying of all for Richardt Strauss. After just two minutes the Irish hooker was taken off the field but having passed the head injury assessments he returned in the eighth minute.
In the 26th minute Strauss sustained a second impact to the head and was replaced by Aaron Dundon. As Pat Leach stretched over for the Dragons’ early try, Noel Reid and Tom Denton clashed heads while attempting to make last-ditch tackles. Reid lay prone on the ground for some time as Denton got to his knees and gingerly to his feet. Both were helped ashore and neither returned.
“They all took bangs to the head so they will all follow the return to play protocols and see how they get on in the week,” said Leinster coach Matt O’Connor.
This needless, sloppy defeat stunned the disbelieving RDS gallery. There may be 12 players off on international duty but it was the Pro 12’s failure to employ a television match official that O’Connor found most disappointing, with Leinster having two tries disallowed by young referee Ben Whitehouse.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable by anyone’s standards that you don’t have a TMO. It makes a mockery of the league really. There are two decisions, from my end, the Luke Fitzgerald one and the lineout drive that need to be officiated on correctly. It doesn’t speak favourably on the integrity of the league that you got TMOs for some games and not for others. And you got a situation where there is meritocracy for Europe. I think it is unacceptable.”
The Reid and Denton collisions actually improved the Leinster team as Mike McCarthy and Luke Fitzgerald entered the fray. Fitzgerald went to outside centre with Ben Te’o moving to second receiver, where his lack of basic skills proved costly.
The dominant blue scrum yielded two first-half penalties, which Jimmy Gopperth landed, to bring arrears back to 7-6 but Tom Prydie cushioned the Dragons’ lead with a strike of his own before the break.
Whitehouse, whistling his third pro game, was badly positioned when Leinster’s maul powered over early in the second half. The subsequent attack eventually broke down due to a Kane Douglas handling error.
Then Fitzgerald had a try disallowed after linking well with Te’o as Whitehouse felt he didn’t ground it properly.
A collection of scrum penalties compelled Gopperth into making it 10-9 but the Dragons made a rare sortie into Leinster’s 22 and Prydie kicked another penalty.
Time was ticking away when Whitehouse drew the ire of Leinster fullback Dave Kearney. When a Dragons player upended the airborne Fergus McFadden, who landed on his neck, Kearney tore into the ref having been the victim of the very same action against Wasps last month.
Kearney did eventually win a sprint off John Cooney’s grubber for what seemed the game-changing try but, like the TMO, the autopilot switch was missing here.
Prydie kicked Dragons back into a 16-14 lead with 10 minutes to play. These last moments demanded an error-free Leinster but Te’o’s carried hard into contact only to be stripped of possession before dropping ball a minute later.
“It was a big ask for sticking him into 12,” said O’Connor of the Rugby League convert. “His ball security can improve but he’s still learning. He’ll get better with every performance.”
That allowed the Dragons creep back into Leinster territory. And that’s where they stayed until one late breakout ended by a Jack Conan fumble.
Scoring sequence – 10 mins: P Leach try, 0-5; T Prydie conv, 0-7; 16 mins: J Gopperth pen, 3-7; 30 mins: J Gopperth pen, 6-7; 39 mins: T Prydie pen, 6-10. Half-time. 51 mins: J Gopperth pen, 9-10; 62 mins: T Prydie pen, 9-13; 67 mins: D Kearney try, 14-13; 69 mins: T Prydie pen, 14-16.
LEINSTER: D Kearney; F McFadden, B Te’o, N Reid, D Fanning; J Gopperth, L McGrath; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong; T Denton, K Douglas; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Conan.
Replacements: A Dundon for R Strauss (2-7 mins and 25 mins), L Fitzgerald for N Reid, M McCarthy for T Denton (both 12 mins), J Cooney for L McGrath, J van der Flier for S Jennings (both 65 mins).
DRAGONS: J Tovey; T Prydie, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos; D Jones, J Evans; O Evans, TR Thomas, B Harris; A Coombs, R Landman (capt); J Thomas, N Cudd, N Crosswell.
Replacements: R Buckley for J Thomas (28-35 mins), B Stankovich for O Evans (44 mins), R Rees for J Evans (70 mins), D Way for B Harris, I Gough for A Coombs (both 72 mins).
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU).