Leinster 51 - 10 Dragons at the RDS, Pro 14 Round 3
Seventeen points from the first half is not exactly what the home fans expected. Despite lots of promising breaks, Henshaw making them at will early on, we had little to show on the scoreboard.
The game finished 52-10, respectable but worrying all the same. When Sexton and Fardy discussed a central penalty on the Dragons’s 22 and decided posts at the half-hour mark, it looked like their backs were against the wall, at least from their body language.
So what went wrong for most of the first half? Can we blame nerves or rustiness? I don’t think the team got it wrong; it was more like once off mistakes. But the were lots of them.
Ringrose crossed the line early on but it was called back for foul play by the TMO. A clear neck roll at a ruck a few phases earlier. But Leinster were camped in the Dragons twenty two with no intentions of leaving without points.
It took a while, and we got forced back to the halfway line but the boys in blue were not to be denied. Cronin’s try when it came brought a breath of relief from the crowd. He cut through the defence like a knife through butter. Game on.
Then nothing. Or at least not much. We still dominated possession and territory, but no more scores. Not until the penalty, mentioned above, on the half hour mark. 10-0. At this stage Dragons did not look like scoring so if our luck continued it was feasible that the score line would stay the same at full time.
The Dragons would have their say before the half was out, however, although their short period of pressure lasted only a few minutes and produced no score. A penalty for holding on gave Leinster some relief after a prolonged series of phases defending their own line.
So they worked their way back up the field but only came alive as the clock ticked red. Concerted pressure on the line caused the concession of a penalty with the Welsh player sent to the bin. A try belatedly arrived with a clever move, 8 to 7 off the scrum, with the Dragons only using seven in the pack because of the sin bin, they were a man short, and Leinster went in at half-time 17-0 leaders. A respectable score under normal circumstances but tonight you could expect Leo Cullen to be less than happy.
He’s not a man to shout and yell. You would not expect the cantankerous manager treatment from Leo. No. He would be quieter than ever. The silence would be chilling. He’d fix things one player at a time.
Maybe it was his manager magic. Maybe it was the Dragons player in the bin. But Leinster came alive in the second half.
The move that got the action in the second half going was a beauty. Conan took the ball, made yards, shrugging off tackles and managed to offload to James Ryan. The lock was besieged by defenders but his offload to Gibson-Park set the scrum half free. He had a long dash to the line, half the pitch almost, but he dotted down under the posts.
Gibson-Park was soon in the mix again with a kick from just outside his twenty-two deep into Dragons territory. At first it looked like it might bounce into touch, but then the rugbiness of the ball changed its trajectory infield.
The chasing Dragons were outpaced by the speeding Larmour, almost a blur, and he picked it up and stepped over the line to score. Less theatrical than his try towards the end of last season but brilliant all the same.
The man’s pace is unbelievable. Add to that his ability to step, spin and dance his way through tackles. Hard to believe that only twelve months ago this prodigy was barely known to the Leinster faithful.
Leo decided to change front row en masse at the fifty three minute mark. While the back replacements were a little green, there’s nothing wrong with a man like Furlong coming on with a third of the game still to play.
It was all Leinster for a while. The pressure kept on mounting and it looked like a cricket score was on the cards, belatedly, maybe, but the spread, 34 points was still within range.
Scott Fardy was denied a try. He sprang after a loose ball near the Dragon’s line and was only just denied by a boot that kicked it clear from play. Did he have his hands on it? Should it have been a penalty or penalty try?
The TMO determined not. Scrum on five metres to Leinster. We got a penalty from the scrum and chose another scrum. I usually hate anything that causes yet another scrum but when it’s this close to the line I can accept it.
The score wasn’t pretty, but we scored. Well the build up wasn’t. A lot of close forward play at the line and then Jamison decided he’d like a second try, nipping over in a tight spot. 33-3, the Dragons having taken a penalty early in the half, to avoid the whitewash.
The script was upset a little then. From the kick off there was a bit of back and forward, ended by the Dragons fullback, who cut through a few tackles with some brilliant footwork to score under the posts. His mazy run will cause one or two embarrassing moments in the video review on Monday. A cracking individual try and possibly a contender of try of the season.
Leinster had had their slap in the face and got back to business. Where they didn’t score in the first half after prolonged pressure, they made it count in the second. From a ruck close to the line Jamison managed an awesome, speculative pop-pass back which Tadhg Furlong was awake to. He scored the try easily. The clever offload assured Gibson-Park the man of the match award, even if he had not done enough already with two tries and a set-up.
We saw him substituted along with Sexton and Henshaw, both of whom had great games, over the next few minutes. Noel Reed got a chance to play out half and the debutant scrum half, Hugh O’Sullivan, showed some solid skills when he came on. Joe Tomane got his home debut.
We had to soak up a little pressure towards this end but the game was more or less over. Perhaps a few in the crowd were sweating the spread. But that’s what it’s there for right? To make one sided games a little more interesting.
Furlong ended one particular phase by winning a decisive scrum penalty, deep inside the Leinster red zone. Since he entered the fray there was less of a contest in the scrum.
The Dragons had done well all game in the set piece, most notably in the line out, stealing several Leinster balls. You got the feeling they were chancing the arm though. Once Leinster stole one of their line outs they went straight to a short, tricky one at the next. I think Jackman didn’t show all his cards tonight; he still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Beware the Dragons - at least on their own patch in Rodney Parade.
Fardy did get in for a score to soothe his disappointment earlier. The Dragons had pressure late on but no more invention. They really didn’t show much in attack tonight.
Defensively they held out well. To keep this Leinster team to seventeen points in the first half should be considered an achievement. But there was to be no heroic holding off of the blue onslaught tonight.
Welcome home Leinster.