Leinster’s season on the brink after Dragons collapse

Matt O’Connor’s side let 14-point lead slip in Wales leaving their Pro12 playoff hopes slim

Leinster’s Jimmy Gopperth breaks through against Newport Gwent Dragons. The outhalf scored a try but came out on the losing side. Photograph: Simon King/Inpho

Dragons 25 Leinster 22

Matt O’Connor has six days to salvage Leinster’s season from suffering the ignominy of being effectively over by mid-April.

Their reign as Guinness Pro12 champions appears to be in the final throws after this damaging defeat in Newport.

O'Connor's side were seeking a hat-trick of titles but the chase now looks doomed after their second-string surrendered a 22-8 lead at Rodney Parade, and with it possibly their hopes of making the playoffs. Defeat leaves them locked in fifth place and eight points adrift of the top four, who all won over the weekend, with just three games remaining.


More disturbing still is how this defeat will deflate the tyres ahead of their Champions Cup semi-final date with Toulon. In addition, head coach O’Connor will be disappointed at how few of the fringe players made a case for inclusion at the Stade Vélodrome on Sunday.

“We have to find a balance between the league and Europe but that’s the dynamic at this time of the season and something we understand at Leinster. You have to make adjustments and can’t make excuses,” said O’Connor.

“We wanted players to put their hands up for selection. There are a lot of guys in and around the group who want to play at the top end, some took their opportunity and others regressed.”

Impossible to ignore

O’Connor was clearly caught between a rock and a hard place. Leinster knew they had to win this game to retain their league ambitions after watching the top four teams all win.

However, the prospect of Toulon is impossible to ignore and Leinster fielded just three of the side that beat Bath to set-up next week's Champions Cup semi-final in Marseilles, Ben Te'o, Jimmy Gopperth and Mick McCarthy.

Those three survivors endured desperately mixed fortunes here at Rodney Parade while Shane Jennings failed to make it past the 13th minute, due to a head injury.

Te’o scored impressive individual tries either side of half-time while Gopperth also skipped through for a try that put Leinster 22-8 ahead on 50 minutes.

But Gopperth was less impressive without the ball in hand while a rash moment of indiscipline by centre Te’o, who failed to use his arms in tackling Hallam Amos and instead rammed his shoulder into the young winger, proved costly.

Te’o was binned and the Dragons scored twice against his 14 team-mates, including the winner.

“We were relatively pleased with the first 50 minutes and pretty much in control of the scoreboard,” said O’Connor.

“But then we made errors and lost big moments, the yellow card [to try-scorer Ben Te’o] was massive and the Dragons came back at us.

“We were second best and Dragons probably deserved the win.

“Qualifying for the playoffs is now almost definitely out of our hands. We’ve got three games remaining and will try to get as many points as we can out of them but now we have to hope other teams do us a favour.”

Leinster's lapses first allowed Jason Tovey to kick the opening points and then Dorian Jones to kick to the corner from where Rhys Thomas barged over.


It was enough to galvanise Leinster and the rest of the half was a constant surge of blue jerseys yet errors looked set to leave them frustrated before half-time.

Gopperth horribly sliced the chance to set up an attacking lineout, Jordi Murphy knocked-on and the scrum was penalised for wheeling just five metres from the Dragons line.

Yet Leinster were finally rewarded for their endeavour with two tries in the space of three minutes before half-time that turned the game on its head.

Te’o combined strength and speed of foot to beat his opposite number and fend a second to touch down. Gopperth struck the post with his conversion but showed a clean pair of heels moments later, beating two defenders with a burst of a pace to cross.


The conversion on the stroke of half-time gave the visitors a 15-8 lead that few could deny them. And when Te’o brushed past two tackles to score a try from nothing on 50 minutes, Leinster were cruising to a bonus-point win.

However, when Te'o was sin-binned, Taulupe Faletau got the Dragons back on the front foot, bursting from a scrum to set up a score for James Benjamin before the British and Irish Lions number eight blocked Eoin Reddan's clearance for Benjamin's second, the clincher, six minutes from time.

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: J Tovey; T Prydie, T Morgan, J Dixon, H Amos; D Jones, J Evans; P Price, T Thomas, B Harris; J Thomas, C Hill; N Crosswell, N Cudd, T Faletau.

Replacements: C Meyer for D Jones (54 mins), D Way for Price (58 mins), J Benjamin for Crosswell (43 mins).

LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; D Kearney, B Te'o, G D'Arcy, D Fanning; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Moore; B Marshall, M McCarthy; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Conan.

Replacements: L Fitzgerald for D Kearney (75 mins), L McGrath for Reddan (78 mins), M Bent for J McGrath (75 mins), A Dundon for Strauss (52 mins), T Furlong for Moore (65 mins), R Molony for M McCarthy (65 mins), J Murphy for Jennings (14 mins). Sin Bin: Te'o (64 mins).

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy).