THE first game of the season was a mixture of the fresh and the familiar at Rodney Parade.

Strolling around the ground before the Guinness PRO14 opener there was a feeling of optimism and hope at the start of a new era under Welsh Rugby Union control, a mood helped by rare sun on a Newport matchday

There was a pristine new hybrid pitch, the rickety old hospitality box structure at the southern end had been ripped down and the historic ground had been given a bit of TLC.

New Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman and his bolstered management team put a matchday squad featuring new recruits Gavin Henson and Zane Kirchner plus new skipper Cory Hill through their paces with military precision.

And then referee Mike Adamson blew his whistle.

The Dragons were not lacking in attitude or endeavour – and let’s not rewrite history, that was the case under Kingsley Jones last term despite a troubled campaign – but they were outclassed by European big guns Leinster.

They were outmuscled by a hefty Irish pack that won the battle of the gainline and got little change out of a well-marshalled defence.

Jackman has pledged to play a more expansive game but that will need some quality ball and for the three-quarters to back themselves a little when the chances arrive.

Time should certainly help on the second point as the boss’ attacking plan takes shape during the week in Ystrad Mynach.

Time will be a friend for the Dragons and we should see strides made as the weeks and months pass. If we don’t then the current squad will be in trouble when the time for contract negotiations comes.

And patience will be required by the Dragons faithful, who showed that they were prepared to give their side a bit of time during the first 80 minutes of the season.

But make no mistake – more will be expected against Connacht and the Southern Kings at Rodney Parade this month, something Jackman recognises.

“I loved it, the crowd were brilliant but we didn’t give them enough to get behind us,” he said.

“The crowd wanted us to perform and tried to help us. We didn’t give them enough but hopefully they respect that it’s a journey and it was day one against a very, very good side.

“We’ve got to make sure that in two weeks’ time against Connacht, who in theory we should be more evenly matched with, we are a lot better.

“Hopefully everyone will stick with us and be part of the journey with us.”

The lack of grumbling as the tries, which were shipped rather too softy, shows that there is a desire for the Dragons to succeed.

It was a healthy crowd of 6,133 with plenty of freebies being dished out around the region in a bid to lure in punters for the future.

They were treated to a competitive first half, although there was always the feeling that Leinster’s bulk from a hefty pack featuring Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier and Australian recruit Scott Fardy would eventually pay.

The Dragons took the lead through the boot of Henson but Leinster levelled through his opposite number Ross Byrne on 17 minutes and swiftly got in front.

A superb cover tackle Elliot Dee denied evergreen Isa Nacewa but, after captain Hill intercepted the offload and was carried over the line, scrum-half Jamison Gibson Park sniped over.

Blindside flanker James Thomas grumbled that he had been held by a crafty man in blue but there was nothing obvious for a TMO denial and Byrne added the extras for 10-3.

The Dragons clung in and Henson traded penalties with Byrne but the PRO14 title favourites were in command from the early stages of the second half.

A driving lineout was rewarded with a penalty try and a yellow card for Dragons lock Matthew Screech for dragging it down.

Henson kicked a third penalty but Leinster then worked wing Jordan Larmour over after the pack had gone close and then flanker Dan Leavy bagged the bonus point from close range.

The Dragons got a first try of the season – an automatic seven-pointer after wing Ashton Hewitt was denied by a high tackle – but the Irish had the final say through fly-half Cathal Marsh.

Plenty of work to do, but we knew that would be the case.

Dragons: Z Kirchner, A Hewitt, T Morgan, J Dixon (A O’Brien 53), H Amos, G Henson, C Davies (T Knoyle 53, J Rosser 66), B Harris (L Garrett 53-79), E Dee (R Buckley 66), L Brown (L Fairbrother 49), M Screech (R Landman 53), C Hill, J Thomas (M Williams 70), J Benjamin, H Keddie.

Scorers: tries – penalty; penalties – G Henson (3)

Yellow card: M Screech

Leinster: R Kearney (B Daly 66), A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, I Nacewa (captain), J Larmour, R Byrne (C Marsh 71), J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 60), C Healy (E Byrne 49), S Cronin (J Tracy 49), M Bent, D Toner (J Ryan 58), S Fardy, D Leavy, J van der Flier, M Deegan (J Conan 54).

Scorers: tries – J Gibson-Park, penalty, J Larmour, D Leavy, C Marsh; conversions – R Byrne (2), C Marsh; penalties – R Byrne (2)

Yellow card: A Byrne

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Attendance: 6,133