THE ABSENCE of Leinster’s megastars didn’t stop the shambolic Dragons from being on the receiving end of a Guinness PRO14 hammering at Rodney Parade.

The Irish province provided more evidence of their incredible squad depth by easing to a nine-try, 59-10 victory in Newport despite most of their biggest earners staying in Dublin to watch on Eir Sport.

It was a case of the have-nots against the haves as Leinster strengthened their grip on Conference B top spot while the Dragons had another pointless fixture in their tussle with Southern Kings at the bottom.

It was a humiliating evening and things don’t get any easier with Challenge Cup trips to Northampton and Clermont Auvergne followed by the festive derbies against Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys and Scarlets.

The Dragons defended appallingly, made errors galore and failed to fire many shots in attack in one of their worst displays in recent times – and they have plenty of competition on that front.

Bernard Jackman was not present because of his two-week stadium ban but such a horror show will only add to the pressure on the former Ireland hooker.

It was a complete mismatch and after the relief of last week’s win against Edinburgh there was a return to the feeling of dread about what is to come in the remainder of the season.

The Dragons don’t have a lengthy injury list to blame, this is pretty much as good as they’ve got and it was nowhere near enough to even make a game of it against Leinster’s reserves, albeit super reserves.

The champions headed to Newport with a side of fringe players with their galaxy of stars left at home ahead of their European double-header with Bath.

However, many sides have found that no Sexton, no Furlong, no Toner, no Henshaw, no Ringrose doesn’t mean no drubbing.

The Irish province had fielded their big guns when the sides met in Dublin in September and dished out a seven-try 52-10 thumping, that despite the Dragons putting in a pretty reasonable performance.

The scoreboard ticked in similar fashion despite the names on the visitors’ teamsheet not being quite as familiar – this was yet more evidence of how well-drilled Leinster are through their whole organisation, plus how deep their pockets are.

Head coach Bernard Jackman had said in midweek that a dramatically improved performance would be needed from the one that edged out Edinburgh if they were to upset Leinster.

They didn’t produce one.

The boss made the correct call in sticking with those that had earned a win against the Scots with his only change being Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright in for the unlucky Nic Cudd.

However, those that held the jersey didn’t grasp their chance and it was inevitable that the strong bench was emptied early.

The first half was a mixture of Leinster being excellent and the Dragons being sluggish.

In Llanelli last season Jackman brought off props Luke Garrett and Nicky Thomas after just 25 minutes. Several players would have been looking nervously towards the touchline to see if Ceri Jones and Barry Maddocks, in charge while the head coach served the last game of his stadium ban, were just as cutthroat.

The changes came early in the second half but didn’t change the script That in itself is a huge worry ahead of the trip to Franklin’s Gardens, although thankfully Northampton aren’t anywhere near Leinster’s level.

The Iris province struck first with a delightful try after seven minutes, albeit after they had been given possession by a loose Jason Tovey pass.

A couple of purposeful carries later, the ball was worked back to fly-half Ross Byrne just outside the 22 and he weighted his kick-pass to the left wing perfectly for Dave Kearney to go over. After providing the assist, the playmaker added the conversion.

It got worse for Tovey – his weak tackle on Conor O’Brien saw the centre charge into the 22.

Flanker Scott Penny seemed to have gone over after the Dragons failed to snuff out the attack but the TMO said he was short.

The respite was short-lived.

Referee Lloyd Linton showed a yellow card to Lewis Evans and the visitors opted for a scrum, charged off the back of it then Penny got his five-pointer. Byrne converted and the ‘second string’ were 14-0 up after just 13 minutes.

The 14-man Dragons needed a settler and got one through the left boot of Tovey but were soon on the back foot with one narrow escape, after their backs’ defence was brutally exposed, before Leinster had their third.

They worked into the 22 and then classy Kiwi scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park produced a peach of a pass to the right wing to strand lock Rynard Landman and put his opposite number Scott Fardy cantering over for a 19-3 lead.

Leinster were denied their bonus score when number eight Caelan Doris reached back into a ruck from an offside position before diving over from close range, and after that escape the Dragons had their best period.

A neat grubber by Rhodri Williams moved them into the 22 and blindside Harri Keddie was held up over the line after hooker Richard Hibbard snared a loose ball.

The Dragons kept pressing – with flanker Aaron Wainwright prominent – but had nothing to show for their efforts after turning down shot at goal in the 40th minute favour of the corner only for Leinster to plunder the ball.

Wales lock Cory Hill and tighthead Leon Brown came running out for the second half but it started in the same fashion for the visitors to earn their bonus.

Leinster went on the front foot and Kearney had another run-in courtesy of a Byrne chip over wing Jared Rosser – the Dragons shouldn’t have got caught again – and the conversion made it 26-3.

Thankfully the hosts showed some spirit and swiftly got their first try of the evening thanks to a snipe by flanker Harri Keddie at a ruck, an assist from loosehead Ryan Bevington and a neat finish by Rhodri Williams.

Tovey’s conversion made it 26-10 and the coaches introduced two more Test player in a bid to keep the momentum in hooker Elliot Dee and flanker Ross Moriarty.

Instead the seven points was wiped out in the 55th minute when more hard carrying and toil to get around the corner rapidly resulted in number eight Doris powering over by the posts for Byrne to make it 33-10.

They didn’t settle for that with full-back Hugo Keenan going over from another Byrne kick, replacement hooker Bryan Byrne barrelling over and then centre Jimmy O’Brien being found in acres of space down the left wing.

It was 52-10 as the clock hit 70 and the reserves had matched the RDS efforts of the Ireland stars.

They bettered with the final play when slick handling put O’Brien over for his second down the left wing with Ciaran Frawley’s conversion making it 59-10.

Complete and utter humiliation.

Dragons: J Williams, J Rosser (A Warren 55), T Morgan, J Sage, H Amos, J Tovey (A Robson 64), R Williams (T Knoyle 60), R Bevington (A Jarvis 71), R Hibbard (captain, E Dee 47), L Fairbrother (L Brown 40-51), R Landman, L Evans (C Hill 40), H Keddie (R Moriarty 47), A Wainwright, O Griffiths.

Scorers: try – R Williams; conversion – J Tovey; penalty – J Tovey Leinster: H Keenan, A Byrne, J O'Brien, C O'Brien, D Kearney (T Daly 62), R Byrne (C Frawley 65), J Gibson-Park (P Patterson 65), E Byrne (P Dooley 53), J Tracy (B Bryne 53), M Bent (A Porter 47), R Molony, S Fardy (captain), J Murphy (M Deegan 53), S Penny, C Doris.

Scorers: tries – D Kearney (2), S Penny, S Fardy, C Doris, H Keenan, B Byrne, J O’Brien (2); conversions – R Byrne (5), C Frawley (2)

Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)