Dragons let bonus points slip from their grasp
LEINSTER 45 DRAGONS 25
IS it being harsh to lambast Newport Gwent Dragons for their failure to leave the Royal Dublin Society, the home of the European champions, with anything to show for their spoils?
Certainly not if the region wants to be considered a serious contender for beating one of their Welsh rivals to Heineken Cup place.
Not only have the Dragons never won at Leinster but they have never even headed back over the Irish Sea with a bonus point.
That should have changed on Saturday when they stunned the reigning Heineken Cup holders with a sterling second-half comeback.
First the Dragons should be praised for showing admirable spirit when it would have been easy for heads to drop.
When Leinster wing Fionn Carr raced over with half an hour left to make it 38-13 the hosts had their bonus point in the bag and an almighty drubbing looked imminent.
But back came the visitors to score their second and third tries and, with the wind in their sails, a fourth looked likely.
However, they failed to grasp the opportunity.
There was a botched five-metre lineout, a couple of attacks where runners were penalised after becoming isolated, a knock-on or two and a fair few wrong options when Leinster were in trouble.
Had they shown a more clinical edge and had they thought a bit more clearly in pressure moments then there’s no doubt that they would have headed home with a pretty pleasing pair of bonus points.
But instead there was yet another plucky failure; the familiar feeling of so near yet so far.
Last season the Dragons should have secured bonus points at Munster, Glasgow and Connacht and once again they were left rueing another missed opportunity on their travels.
Such mishaps make quite a difference to the final RaboDirect Pro12 table.
There is no argument that Leinster were worthy winners but the scoreboard gave the appearance of a routine evening’s work courtesy of Brendan Macken’s interception try with the last play.
However, there were a few nervous faces in the stands when the Dragons were narrowing the gap and finding holes in the home defence in the final quarter.
For 50 minutes the Irish province, without the majority of their internationals, did do a professional job.
Wing Andrew Conway got the ball rolling when he exposed some disappointingly shoddy defence from a restart and flanker Ben Marshall crashed over before the break to make it 26-13 at half-time.
Steffan Jones had scored an interception try in between those scores but in the first half the Dragons failed to really test their hosts with ball in hand and were hindered by a high penalty count, the latter leading to Nathan Williams being sin-binned on the stroke of half-time.
They were still just about in touch when they headed to the changing rooms but that changed swiftly after the restart.
Flanker Shane Jennings was at the bottom of a powerful drive before Carr finished off in the corner after Leinster exposed a gaping hole in midfield.
At that point a thrashing looked on the cards but the Dragons, with a nothing-to-lose spirit, came firing back with some terrific rugby.
Full-back Dan Evans and wing Tom Prydie were the key figures, the summer signings troubling the European champions with some terrific running lines.
First Prydie went over down the left after lovely handling by centre Pat Leach and Evans.
The wing then turned provider for Evans, playing a ‘one-two’ with his full-back down the same flank after they were set in motion by lock Adam Jones’ smart work with ball in hand.
Suddenly the Dragons were in the ascendancy and they had the final quarter to cross the whitewash for a fourth time and ensure they headed home with at least a bonus.
The failure to achieve that despite several opportunities will be galling when they look back at the footage this week.
The Dragons should have been preparing for Saturday’s visit of Cardiff Blues on the back of a morale-boosting fightback that secured a pair of bonus points.
Instead they are going to be fuelled by that familiar feeling of frustration.
Leinster: I Nacewa, A Conway (D Hudson 50-60), B Macken, N Reid, F Carr, I Madigan (D Hudson 76), J Cooney, J McGrath (H Van der Werwe 50), S Cronin (T Sexton 60), J Hagan, L Cullen (captain), Q Roux (D Toner 60), B Marshall, S Jennings (J Murphy 60), L Auva’a.
Scorers: tries – A Conway, B Marshall, S Jennings, F Carr, B Macken; conversions – I Madigan (3), I Nacewa; penalties – I Madigan (4)
Dragons: D Evans, W Harries, P Leach, A Tuilagi (A Smith 73), T Prydie, S Jones (H Amos 65), J Evans (L Davies 71), N Williams (A Coundley 60), S Parry (H Gustafson 50), N Buck (T Ryan 71), I Nimmo, A Jones (T Brown 66), H Stoddart (A Coundley 39-47, L Evans 53), J Groves (captain), T Faletau.
Scorers: tries – S Jones, T Prydie, D Evans; conversions – T Prydie (2); penalties – T Prydie (2) Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy) Attendance: 15,724 (tickets sold)