Leinster 38 Dragons 7
After more than 15 months and 17 games in the Aviva and the RDS without them, Leinster opened its doors to welcome back supporters. The sun shone brilliantly in balmy Ballsbridge and to see and hear real live, breathing, shouting and cheering fans, all seemed a little brighter in the world.
It may only have been one 15th of its capacity but it was something, and louder even than James Lowe leading a boisterous end-of-season plethora of non-playing players at the Ulster game four weeks ago.
Under blue skies every supporter was proudly clad in Leinster tops, and this Rainbow Cup dead-rubber must have rivalled the Exeter quarter-final win for best game of the season.
But it was orderly mind. While the 1,100 official members’ lottery winners, along with deserving 100 staff from St Vincent’s Hospital, may have been lucky enough to have drawn a ticket, only a small proportion of them were fortunate to grab a cold one.
Amid some low-key garda presence, the Bridge, Crowes, Mary Macs, Paddy Cullens and the Horse Show House were strictly restricting their customers to the outdoor seats available, which had seemingly all been pre-booked online. Some Leinster fans had to contend with tinnies from Spar, who were also operating a queuing system.
"Typical Leinster fans, all very well behaved," confirmed John Tracey, who was manning Crowes, loyally.
In truth, save for the blue, it wasn’t that different from sunny weekend evenings hereabouts, and a good deal less populated that parts of the city centre for much of every day this past fortnight.
Mingling among them was Leo Varadkar, leading the Fine Gael canvassing team passing out leaflets on behalf of their candidate in the upcoming byelection, James Geoghegan. Labour's Ivana Bacik had been in the vicinity the day before in what Miriam Lord in these pages has termed Dublin Bay South's Battle of the Barristers.
Peaking out under the Tánaiste’s jacket seemed to be the top of a Leinster replica jersey, signalling he too may have been attending the match.
One’s mind flashed back to those national addresses back in the dark days of spring 2020 before reverting back to another welcome attraction on a rectangular, and pristine, green field.
In what almost had the feel of a pre-season friendly, Leinster were quick to put on a show, using their backs and the width of the pitch to score tries through wingers Jimmy O'Brien and Jordan Larmour.
These sandwiched the pick of the bunch, a pitch-length try off a lineout with rumbles by the outstanding Caelan Doris (pretty much back to his best), Cian Healy and Scott Fardy, with an offload, before Garry Ringrose released Larmour for a gallop and was then on hand for a fine finish from Jamison Gibson-Park's inside link.
The last time Leinster fans were here Ryan Baird was galloping around the RDS like a gazelle in scoring a hat-trick against Glasgow in February 2020.
Soon after the resumption, in front of the watching Andy Farrell and Paul O'Connell, he was it again, marauding from halfway, pirouetting with the ball in one hand and taking Gibson-Park's return offload to seal the bonus point.
Getting to the edges there were further sharp finishes by Larmour and Scott Penny.
With Baird, James Ryan and Doris pointing toward a healthy future, Michael Bent did his thing at scrum time and Scott Fardy ran around like a spring chicken before their loudly acclaimed 54th-minute farewell. The Ealing-bound Cian Kelleher followed suit off the bench.
Meanwhile, Gibson-Park reminded everyone what they had been missing, Harry Byrne returned as a first-half sub with brother Ross shifting to centre, while Vakh Abdaladze became Leinster's 60th player of a weird and difficult season.
And with that it was both welcome back and goodbye until next season.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 6 mins: O'Brien try, Byrne con, 7-0; 15: Ringrose try,, Byrne con, 14-0; 20: Larmour try, 19-0; 28: S Davies try, con, 19-7; (half-time 19-7); 43: Baird try, R Byrne con, 26-7; 60: Larmour try 31-7; 66: Penny try, R Byrne con 38-7.
LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (capt), Rory O'Loughlin, Jimmy O'Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Michael Bent; Ryan Baird, James Ryan; Scott Fardy, Scott Penny, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Harry Byrne for O'Loughlin (27 mins), Vakh Abdaladze for Bent, Devin Toner for Fardy (both 54), James Tracy for Kelleher, Michael Milne for Healy (both 55), Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park (62), Cian Kelleher for Keenan (69), Josh van der Flier for Penny (73).
Sinbinned: Kelleher (23-34 mins).
DRAGONS: Josh Lewis; Owen Jenkins, Aneurin Owen, Jamie Roberts, Rio Dyer; Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (capt); Brok Harris, Elliot Dee, Aaron Jarvis; Joe Davies, Ben Carter; Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Ioan Davies for Dyer (16 mins), Taine Basham for Moriarty (23), Jack Dixon for Lewis (44), Gonzalo Bertranou for Williams (47), Joe Maksymiw for J Davies (56), Josh Reynolds for Harris (60), Richard Hibbard for Dee (68), Luke Yeandle for Jarvis (74).
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)