THE answer to the pre-match question of ‘by how many?’ was just six after the Dragons fought back to give Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster a scare.

Dean Ryan’s men lost 35-5 at the Royal Dublin Society on the opening weekend of the season when fully-loaded.

The return fixture just served to emphasise the depth of the squads with Leinster’s ‘second string’ – arguably the second best team in the PRO14 – running in five tries at Rodney Parade.

However, the battling Dragons stormed back to earn a losing bonus and even had the chance to go for a stunning comeback win, only for Sam Davies to protect the consolation by punting the ball dead from his 22 with the clock in the red.

They led 15-14 at the break after having the wind at their backs, fly-half Davies celebrating the announcement of his new contract with five sweetly-struck penalties.

Alas, the champions showed a ruthless streak in the 22 and had their bonus point in the bag before the hour.

That required the Dragons to dig deep to limit the damage ahead of their more winnable encounter with Zebre in Parma.

South Wales Argus:

With flanker Ben Fry leading the charge – the 22-year-old has had a breakthrough season and seems to relish the absence of other back row stars – they did more than that.

Replacements Luke Baldwin and Josh Lewis went over to ensure they had something to show for their toil.

Director of rugby Ryan spoke about the Dragons using the clash to gauge where they are at and on that front they don’t lack endeavour but they certainly lack a bit of attacking spark.

A back row crisis led to lock Matthew Screech starting at blindside with new recruit Dan Baker given the chance to get his feet under the table with a debut off the bench.

That introduction would come earlier than planned when a head injury led to him replacing Screech after half an hour.

With Jamie Roberts on paternity leave, bright prospect Aneurin Owen partnered Jack Dixon in midfield.

It was an extremely scrappy, error-strewn start but the scoreline would have pleased Ryan, who had lamented previous sluggish starts against the Irish powerhouses.

The Dragons went into the lead in the 15th minute when Davies kicked an excellent penalty after Ross Molony rolled the wrong way at a ruck.

The fly-half swiftly added two more efforts for a 9-0 lead before Leinster responded with try number one.

They got into the 22 and then showed patience before prop Peter Dooley went under the posts.

Davies kicked a fourth penalty but Leinster earned the lead on the half hour with a repeat in the 22, this time flanker Scott Penny the man to barge over.

Ross Byrne's second conversion earned the Irish province the lead for the first time only for the home fly-half to make it a perfect five.

South Wales Argus:

The Dragons led 15-14 but aimed to stretch that before heading to their changing room after a strong penalty earned them the chance to strike through their driving lineout.

It looked like impressive flanker Ben Fry had managed to do what hooker Richard Hibbard did three times in the loss to Connacht when he drove over only for a review of the footage to show obstruction by lock Joe Davies when forming the maul.

Nonetheless, the Dragons would have been content with their first-half efforts, even though they had been a little kick-heavy.

They were up against it from the off after the resumption with Leinster putting heat on their lineout.

A steal earned possession in the 22 and led to tighthead Lloyd Fairbrother being sin-binned for his second no-arms tackle of the evening, an offence that he followed by being offside.

Leinster went for the tap penalty and powered over for a third time from close range, this time through flanker Josh Murphy with Byrne’s conversion making it 21-15 after 47 minutes.

The champions wasted a chance to seal the bonus after 50 minutes with a botched five-metre lineout but the game was being played exclusively in the Dragons’ half.

The inevitable bonus came after 55 minutes when a strong scrum was pumped to the 22 and a lineout drive was stopped illegally, an offence that not only resulted in a penalty try but a yellow card for Dan Baker.

The fifth came courtesy of a lovely pop pass, a neat side-step by replacement hooker Dan Sheehan and a weak defensive effort by full-back Jordan Williams.

The Dragons were playing for pride and avoided an attacking blank when strong scrums on the line earned a penalty advantage before replacement scrum-half Luke Baldwin dived over a ruck.

Davies made it 35-22 and they were suddenly hunting a bonus point. A penalty allowed them to finish in the 22 with replacement prop Greg Bateman going close before the ball was spun to the right for Lewis to go over.

Dragons: J Williams (J Lewis 64); J Holmes (C Coleman 51), A Owen, J Dixon, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (L Baldwin 64); B Harris (G Bateman 51), R Hibbard (E Shipp 48), L Fairbrother, J Davies, B Carter, M Screech (D Baker 30), B Fry, H Taylor (J Maksymiw 57).
Scorers: tries – L Baldwin, J Lewis; conversions – S Davies (2); penalties – S Davies (5)

Leinster: M O'Reilly; C Kelleher, R O'Loughlin, R Byrne, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (captain); P Dooley, J Tracy, T Clarkson, R Molony, R Baird, J Murphy, S Penny, J Conan.
Replacements: D Sheehan, M Hanan, G McGrath, D Toner, S Fardy, R Osborne, D Hawkshaw, J Osborne.
Scorers: tries – Dooley, Penny, Murphy, penalty, Sheehan; conversions – R Byrne (4)

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)fly-half made no mistake from the tee to earn a consolation and they opted to protect that rather than chase a win.