Dragons earn late bonus point on Parade
DRAGONS 19 LEINSTER 26
START like a clapped out Mondeo against a purring Aston Martin and you will never be spraying champagne from the top of the podium.
Newport Gwent Dragons went down to a 26-19 RaboDirect Pro12 defeat to Leinster at Rodney Parade last night thanks to a performance that left one frustrating question: what took them so long?
The Dragons produced a fightback that was as stirring as their start was shambolic.
The first quarter was a performance of Glasgow proportions, when they suffered a humiliating 60-3 home defeat, and it looked like the record books could be rewritten again.
The Dragons trailed 19-3 before a quarter of the game had been played with their line crossed three times.
Thankfully the Dragons responded, yet their heart and defensive steel came too late, although it did ensure the most unexpected of bonus points.
This season the Dragons have suffered death by a thousand cuts; narrow defeats and failure to earn bonus points have led to a lowly league position and early European elimination.
Last night was another for the ‘if only’ folder but they did at least salvage a bonus with Steffan Jones’ last-gasp try.
There is no doubt that Leinster were the better side but the Dragons gifted them a headstart that meant that their late revival was always likely to fall short.
Leinster headed into the match with a seven-game winning streak and expectations among the home faithful were low.
In fact, hopes had slipped down another couple of rungs on Thursday when the European champions named a strong side.
The Dubliners started with four players – scrum-half Eoin Reddan, full-back Luke Fitzgerald, lock Devin Toner and hooker Sean Cronin – that had been on Ireland’s bench against Scotland while promising fly-half Ian Madigan had been challenged to push his Test case.
After the eight-try drubbing at the hands of the Warriors, Dragons fans at the very least wanted their side to show some stomach for the fight, to give a top team a bloody nose and make them graft for the points.
The team had responded with a hard-fought win over Zebre in Parma and the same spirit was the minimum requirement back on home turf.
In the first half the Dragons defended the same end that had seen the late flurry of Glasgow tries. Unfortunately the dam was still leaking.
It was a shocking start from the moment that lock Ian Nimmo failed to gather the kick-off.
Cronin barged over down the left corner after just 50 seconds and then, after Steffan Jones had booted a penalty, repeated the trick before seven minutes had elapsed.
At 12-3 and less than a quarter of an hour on referee David Wilkinson’s watch, the Irish province started kicking penalties to the corner – they wanted to make it a five-point haul as early as possible.
They were three quarters of the way there when Rhys Ruddock, son of Gwent favourite Mike, barged into two tacklers before offloading to wing Dave Kearney for a score that Madigan converted. That try meant that in 40 minutes of rugby, the final quarter against Glasgow and the first 20 versus the Irish province, the Dragons’ line had been crossed EIGHT times.
Leinster were without the likes of Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Rob Kearney etc and it was still men against boys in the opening exchanges.
Even with a lengthy list of absentees the European champions were able to field a set of three-quarters that loved playing with quick ball and exploiting mismatches with their dancing feet.
But they were allowed to play by the sloppy hosts and the Irish province were stronger in body and sharper of mind.
It left the Dragons seemingly playing for pride before a quarter had elapsed. Thankfully they responded – tackles were being made, ball was slowed down and ball carriers carried.
Jones knocked over a second penalty after 30 minutes to make it 19-6 – and double the Glasgow tally – and then a drop goal to make it a 10-point game.
The result never looked in doubt but at least the scoreboard was looking a bit more respectable.
But the result WAS in doubt a minute into the second half when number eight Ieuan Jones timed his run to perfection to power over from Jonathan Evans’ pop pass five yards out.
Back came Leinster but the Dragons stood firm, repelling wave after wave of attack in a manner that contrasted starkly to their first quarter effort, flying into the Irishmen with wonderful commitment.
But the pressure was incessant and it earned Leinster their bonus point with quarter of an hour remaining, Kearney bagging his brace down the right and Madigan converting for 26-14.
Done and dusted? Not quite, Jones’ late score at least meant that it wasn’t another pointless night at Rodney Parade.
Dragons: D Evans (T Prydie 74), A Hughes, P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos, S Jones, J Evans (W Evans 72), P Price (A Coundley 52), S Parry (H Gustafson 67), N Buck (D Way 67), I Nimmo (A Jones 67), J Groves (R Sidoli 72), L Evans (capt), N Cudd, I Jones.
Scorers: tries – I Jones, S Jones; penalties – S Jones (2); drop goal – S Jones
Leinster: L Fitzgerald, D Kearney, B Macken (E O’Malley 52), F McFadden, F Carr, I Madigan, E Reddan (J Cooney 72), J O’Connell (J McGrath 52), S Cronin (A Dundon 72), J Hagan (M Bent 47), M Flanagan (L Cullen 47), D Toner, D Ryan (J Murphy 61), S Jennings (capt), R Ruddock.
Scorers: tries – S Cronin (2), D Kearney (2); conversion – I Madigan (3) Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Argus star man: Nic Cudd