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Leinster Rugby (17) 27 - 6 (3) Newport Gwent Dragons
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 19 November 2010, 19:05

With Irish rugby caught up in ticket price and selection debates and die-hard fans watching an underfilled Lansdowne road on the TV there was almost a sense of relief among Leinster fans to be returning to the bread and butter of Magners league on a Friday night in the RDS. Leinster were looking to extend their five match unbeaten run in the Magners against third from bottom Dragons, but with Leinster hit much harder by international call-ups than the Welsh side the outcome was far from a foregone conclusion.

Leinster got off to the perfect start with a try on 3 minutes for the returning Shaun Berne. Quick ball from a ruck led to some great running from the Leinster backs and a line break from Shane Horgan. Berne provided the support and he collected the off-load and an opening five points, converted to seven by Nacewa. The gap was increased to 10 five minutes later when after more Leinster pressure, Dragons' hooker Tom Willis was penalised for coming in from the side, just inside their 22. The penalty was converted by Nacewa.

The Dragons got off the mark in the 12th minute after Leinster tried to run the ball from a scrum just outside their own 22. Horgan was caught in front of the posts and a penalty for off-side against Leinster was converted by Jason Tovey. The volume from the Leinster crowd was raised again in the 16th minute when a line break from Richardt Strauss led to a series of rucks in the Dragon's 22. A chip and chase from McFadden was collected by the Dragons after Fergus was apparently impeded but in any case the referee brought play back for a Leinster penalty, which had again been conceded by Willis (this time for offside). Unfortunately the inability of Justin Marshall to respect the silence for the kicker in the small terrace was enough to put Nacewa off and the kick was wide to the left.

Leinster were almost in for their second in the 22nd minute when an inside pass from Jennings to the geographically challenged debutant Clint Newland almost saw them through but Dave Kearney failed to hold the pass from Newland and the opportunity was lost. Pressure continued from Leinster with some nice loose play from the forwards and they were rewarded with a penalty in the Dragons' 22 which Shaun Berne sent into the corner. The resulting line-out was untidy but Leinster eventually secured possesion and a cross field kick, after a couple of phases from the forwards, was fielded by an unmarked Horgan. Leinster had their second try.

Knock-ons from Leinster gave the Dragons a foothold in Leinster territory and when a second knock on from Berne in as many minutes was adjudged deliberate Tovey sent a penalty down the line and Dragons had an attacking line out on Leinster's 5 metre line. Leo Cullen was penalised for taking out a support player in the resulting line-out and was sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. The Dragons again opted to kick to the corner but the Leinster defence held firm until a knock-on from Will Harries allowed Leinster to clear their lines - although Leinster were lucky not to be penalised for Dave Kearney taking Harries in the air. Pressure from the Dragons continued from the resulting line-out and from a controversial scrum in the Leinster 22 but on both occasions their handling let them down. Leinster again upped the tempo and moved the ball around well coming up to half-time. The Dragons were forced to defend, which they did succesfully and the score remained 17-3 at the break.

The second half saw Jason Harris-Wright, Mike Ross and Ed O'Donoghue replace Richardt Strauss, Clint Newland and Trevor Hogan. The half started with both teams playing a kicking game with the mistake eventually coming from Nacewa giving Dragons a line-out in the Leinster half. Play continued as did pressure from the Dragons who stole a second line-out on Harris-Wright's throw but again handling let them down and Leinster cleared their lines. On-going pressure eventually led to Dragons' first clear line break of the game from Adam Hughes and a penalty conceded by Shane Horgan for coming in from the side. Tovey pulled his kick to the left of the uprights. He got another chance straight from the 22 drop-out re-start however, as Jenning was penalised for taking out the Dragons' Hooker. This time Tovey was succesful and brought his team to 6 points.

Leinster again threatened the Dragons' line with a combination of forward and back play and earned a penalty but a crooked throw from Harris-Wright gave the Dragons a scrum and a chance to clear their lines. It was a chance they didn't take however. The addition of Mike Ross seemed to have rejuvenated the Leinster scrum and they earned the turnover and, from the resulting possesion, a penalty for interference with Boss off the ball. With their new found solidity in the scrum, they took this option and again a second time, after a scrum penalty. The resulting possesion was untidy but Leinster showed patience with a series of pick and gos and a visit to the TMO was their reward. He judged Stephen Keogh short of the goal-line so the referee went back for a Leinster penalty and with the Dragons' openside flanker being sent to the bin Leinster again went for the scrum. The scrum was solid and the ball went wide for Horgan to score his second and Leinster's third try.

Leinster continued to threaten for the bonus point and the line was eventually crossed in the 69th minute by Issac Boss after some clever play from Eoin O'Malley. Leinster made further changes before the re-start with Jack McGrath and Andrew Conway coming on for Heinke Van Der Merwe and Dave Kearney and out-half Matthew Jones replaced Jason Tovey for the Dragons. Leinster replaced their own out-half Berne with Ian Madigan 4 minutes later. There was late pressure from both teams and both lines were threatened in turn - Leinster's after man of the match Horgan dropped ball close to the line and Dragons' by great play throughout the Leinster 15, including an Andrew Conway break which resulted in a penalty just metres out. In an unlikely substitution Paul O'Donoghue replaced Rhys Ruddock for the scrum. Leinster finished in the ascendancy with a series of scrums followed by pick and gos on the Dragons line but they eventually gave up a penalty for not releasing which the Dragons kicked to touch to end the match. Final score Leinster 27 - NG Dragons 6.

Five valuable points and extending their unbeaten run in the league to 6 matches sees Leinster climb to fifth in the league after all the weekend's matches. Not a bad night's work all told.

by William Wilson, © 2010-11-22