A VISIT to Leinster – winners of the Guinness PRO14 for the last three seasons – always looked like being the toughest way for the Dragons to start their 2020-21 campaign and so it proved.

The men from Rodney Parade are making slow and steady progress under Dean Ryan, but they are not yet ready to take on and worry Europe’s best teams.

That much was proved in the heavy European Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat by Bristol and at the RDS Arena, Leinster showed the Dragons once again how much further they have to travel.

The visitors were 21-0 down at the break having been reduced to 14 with Leinster scoring through Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and James Lowe.

After the break the pain got worse as although the Dragons never stopped working, Lowe added his second and Ryan Baird completed Leinster’s scoring.

Wearing their striking alternate kit – a mix of pink and grey – Dragons had an early boost when Johnny Sexton’s kick-off failed to go the required 10 metres, but Ryan’s pack was immediately under pressure as Leinster went on the attack. Sexton chipped through and Hugo Keenan raced on to the kick with Jonah Holmes covering. Referee Andrea Piardi went upstairs to TMO Simon McDowell who gave the Dragons a reprieve. Leinster’s line speed and forward aggression was fearsome to say the least, but they lost Ciaran Frawley to a head injury assessment after he collided with a rampaging Jamie Roberts. Both sides were making mistakes, but Leinster finally broke through.

After Lowe burst through and the ball was recycled, Jamison Gibson-Park’s simple pass to Ireland centre Ringrose left him with an easy finish.

In the build-up to Ringrose going over, Roberts had tackled Frawley’s replacement Tommy O’Brien high and McDowell judged the hit worthy of a yellow card.

Sexton’s conversion was salt in the wound and the Dragons were now in trouble with a man light.

After more than 20 phases the Welsh side were spread from touchline to touchline and it ended with Larmour smashing over in the corner. Ringrose stepped up to add the goal with a rare PRO14 appearance for Sexton lasting just 24 minutes as he left the fray. Ross Byrne came on.

When the Dragons did get some field position, Elliot Dee’s line-out throw didn’t find its mark. At the home of the champions you just can’t make mistakes like that.

Roberts returned to the field, but the Dragons just couldn’t slow down Leinster’s speed of ball and Lowe finished in the corner after fine approach work from Ringrose.

This time it was Byrne who added the extras.

Nick Tompkins went on the charge just before the break after Holmes burst through. Holmes played in Sam Davies and the fly-half looked certain to score only to trip with the line gaping.

Ryan swapped prop Aaron Jarvis with Lloyd Fairbrother for the start of the second half and Will Talbot-Davies produced a nice kick to touch.

Aaron Wainwright also stood up in the face of the Irish assault as Josh Lewis and Matthew Screech stepped in for Talbot-Davies and Joe Maksymiw.

Davies did chip ahead for Tompkins and the Dragons earned field position after Davies kicked to the corner, but again they turned over the line-out five metres out.

Leinster make sides pay for such errors and Ringrose’s superb pass sent Lowe to the corner who beat Lewis to score the bonus-point try. Byrne nailed the touchline extras.

Dragons finally got on the board through Hewitt and it was a remarkable finish. Roberts, Tompkins and Lewis were all involved in the build-up, but Hewitt had plenty of work to do in the corner.

Josh van der Flier came covering across to tackle, but Hewitt’s acrobatics saw him get downward pressure despite the Leinster and Irish forward’s tackle.

Davies couldn’t convert.

James Ryan came close to a fifth Leinster try, but the rampaging lock was stopped in his tracks by a fine tap tackle from Dragons captain Rhodri Williams.

But straight after that another Dee line-out went horribly wrong. The ball was overthrown and Baird – who had only just arrived in the action – smashed through four tacklers to score.

A miracle tackle from Hewitt on Larmour stopped another Leinster try as Tavis Knoyle appeared at scrum-half for his 100th PRO14 appearance.

It was a surprise it took until the 71st minute for Dee – whose set-piece was poor – to be replaced by Richard Hibbard and incessant late Dragons pressure saw the excellent Rhys Ruddock sin binned.

The Dragons still couldn’t take another advantage as Hibbard’s throw to Ross Moriarty wasn’t straight, summing up what was an awful night for their line-out.

Leinster: Keenan; Larmour, Ringrose, Frawley (O’Brien 11), Lowe; Sexton (R Byrne 24), Gibson-Park (McGrath 68); E Byrne (Healy 50), Kelleher (Cronin 50), Bent (Porter 50), Fardy, Ryan, Ruddock, Van der Flier, Conan (Deegan 50) (Baird 63)

Yellow card: Ruddock

Scorers: Tries: Ringrose 16, Larmour 21, Lowe 32, 55, Baird 65, Keenan

Cons: Sexton 19, Ringrose 23, R Byrne 33, 56, 66

Dragons: Talbot-Davies (Lewis 50); Holmes, Tompkins, Roberts (Warren 73), Hewitt; S Davies, Williams (capt) (Knoyle 68); Harris (Maguire 63), Dee (Hibbard 71), Jarvis (Fairbrother 40), J Davies, Maksymiw (Screech 50), Wainwright, Keddie (Basham 65), Moriarty

Scorers: Try: Hewitt 58

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)

Dragons star man: Aaron Wainwright