Ross best of the Byrnes as Leinster see off gutsy Dragons
Visitors recover from an indisciplined first half and claim a bonus-point win in Wales
Leinster celebrate Josh Murphy’s try in Friday’s bonus point win over the Dragons. Photograph: Inpho
Dragons 29 Leinster 35
Leinster increased their lead over Ulster to five points with a hard fought bonus point victory against a gutsy Dragons side.
Indiscipline proved a major bugbear in the first half but the visitors' forward power was decisive as they pushed on for the win. The home side scored two late tries to soften the scoreline.
Leo Cullen’s team were forced into a late change, Michael Bent cried off, replaced by 20-year-old Tom Clarkson with Lansdowne’s Greg McGrath on the bench. Jack Conan, making his 100th appearance, enjoyed a superb game, giving Leinster go-forward ball with his power in and through the contact. Ryan Baird was another to stand out, along with Josh Murphy, Scott Penny and Peter Dooley, try scorers all and major contributors, so too Clarkson.
Luke McGrath was excellent while Cian Kelleher’s footwork was a problem for the home side. Ross earned the bragging rights in Byrne household, outshining his brother Harry, despite playing in the centre.
The opening 15 minutes was scrappy, handling errors and indiscipline creeping into both teams’ patterns and the period was dominated by set piece fare of scrum and lineout. Leinster conceded three penalties and from the third, Dragons’ outhalf Sam Davies gave the home side the lead.
Leinster continued to rack up the mistakes and Davies was handed two penalty opportunities in quick succession, both of which he landed. The second was a beauty from the halfway line to push his side out to a 9-0 lead after 20-minutes.
The visitors then produced the most coherent rugby of the game, Murphy and Rory O’Loughlin making breaks and taking play into the Dragons’ 22. Leinster then softened up their opponents around the fringes before Peter Dooley crashed over under the posts. Ross Byrne converted but almost immediately the Irish province conceded another penalty, a seventh and Davies punished them.
Leinster responded with a second try, which had many similarities to the first, a series of muscular sallies that culminated in Scott Penny burrowing past a couple of tacklers for his seventh try in seven matches. Ross Byrne’s conversion gave the visitors a 14-12 lead on the half hour.
Referee Ben Whitehouse gave the home side another penalty and Davies maintained his 100 per cent record from the kicking tee. A ninth penalty at a scrum (Dooley penalised) and a 10th (Ross Molony adjudged to have been thrown across at the ensuing lineout), allowed the Dragons to kick into the corner.
Ben Fry was driven over from the maul but the try was chalked off, correctly, for obstruction and Leinster escaped to the dressing-room trailing 15-14. The priority for the visitors was to clean up their discipline while the Dragons will have been encouraged by their work at the breakdown and the scrum.
A superb steal at a lineout from the excellent Baird gave Leinster possession and when the Dragon’s tighthead Lloyd Fairbrother was sin binned for two no arms tackles in the same sequence of play, James Tracey tapped the penalty and Murphy forced his way over.
Ross Byrne kicked the conversion and it was his superbly weighted grubber that gave Leinster another try scoring opportunity but the ball was lost from a five metre lineout. It was a temporary respite for the home side as the visitors grabbed a bonus point try.
Leinster won a scrum penalty, kicked into the Dragons’ 22 and when the home side brought down the maul illegally, Whitehouse awarded a penalty try and gave Dan Baker a yellow card. McGrath’s sharp play and a lovely step from replacement hooker Dan Sheehan led to a try for the latter. Ross Byrne maintained his flawless kicking record.
At this stage the majority of both benches were on the pitch, including young Clane tighthead prop Marcus Hanan, making his debut for Leinster. The Dragons got a try their performance deserved, a clever finish from replacement scrumhalf Luke Baldwin as the visitors gave up a series of penalties near their own line.
The home side had the final say, earning a bonus point for a fourth try from Josh Lewis.
Scoring sequence - 15 mins: Davies penalty, 3-0; 19 mins: Davies penalty, 6-0; 20 mins: Davies penalty 9-0; 23 mins: Dooley try, R Byrne conversion, 9-7; 25 mins: Davies penalty, 12-7; 29 mins: Penny try, R Byrne conversion, 12-14; 36 mins: Davies penalty, 15-14. Half-time: 15-14. 47 mins: Murphy try, R Byrne conversion, 15-21; 56 mins: Penalty try, 15-28; 62 mins: Sheehan try, R Byrne conversion, 15-35; 72 mins: Baldwin try, Davies conversion, 22-35; 79 mins: Lewis try, Davies conversion, 29-35.
Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes, A Owen, J Dixon, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (Capt); B Harris, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother; J Davies, B Carter: M Screech, B Fry, H Taylor. Replacements: D Baker for Screech 30 mins (HIA); E Shipp for Hibbard 48 mins; G Bateman for Harris 48 mins; C Coleman for Holmes 51 mins; J Maksymiw for Carter 56 mins; J Lewis for Williams 64 mins; L Baldwin for Williams 64 mins.
Yellow cards: L Fairbrother (Dragons) 46 mins; D Baker (Dragons) 56 mins.
Leinster: M O’Reilly; C Kelleher, R O’Loughlin, R Byrne, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (Capt); P Dooley, J Tracy, T Clarkson; R Molony, R Baird; J Murphy, S Penny, J Conan. Replacements: D Sheehan for Tracy 57 mins; D Toner for Molony 57 mins; J Osborne for H Byrne 63 mins; M Hanan for Dooley 65 mins; G McGrath for Clarkson 65 mins; S Fardy for Murphy 68 mins; R Osborne for McGrath 68 mins; D Hawkshaw for R Byrne 78 mins.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)