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Dublin: 1 °C Friday 15 December, 2017
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Ice-cool Byrne steers Leinster to 8-try win over Dragons

The out-half was deadly off the tee and instrumental in attack.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster 54

Dragons 10

Sean Farrell reports from the RDS

BERNARD JACKMAN’S DRAGONS didn’t have near enough firepower to contend with a Leinster side overflowing with academy-produced talent.

The eastern province even afforded their guests the luxury of a 10-point head start before ruthlessly racking up 54 points without reply by way of eight tries.

Though the last of Ireland’s November Tests tomorrow kept front-liners out of contention for Leo Cullen, his team made hay regardless as both Josh Murphy and Max Deegan grounded their first senior tries during a pulsating 20 minute spell which yielded a first-half bonus point.

And it had all started so well for the team looking for a third win of the Pro14 season. On a bitterly cold night, Jackman’s men were first to warm to the task, owning the ball completely for the first three minutes of the match to pave the way for a sweetly-struck Gavin Henson drop-goal.

One or two among the 10,384 Leinster fans might even have briefly regretted their decision to brave the winter chill when watching their side slip to a 10-point deficit 10 minutes later.

Another solid set of Dragons phases with little impact from Leinster’s defensive breakdown yielded a close-range try for James Benjamin – just rewards for the number eight who was responsible for some big carries to put his side in striking distance.

Bear poked, the hosts sought out their higher gears, not to mention their higher-skilled players. Noel Reid and Ross Byrne were the first to find holes in the defence, while the intent in Rory O’Loughlin and Jordan Larmour was constant headaches for defenders.

Byrne’s break before the end of the opening quarter paved the way for a sniping Jamison Gibson-Park to put the hosts on the board. And they were soon in the lead as O’Loughlin had the confidence to draw a hesitation from the last defender and create space enough for Isa Nacewa to dive into the corner to ensure the two-on-two chance did not go begging.

Isa Nacewa scores his sides fifth try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The hosts were humming now and Sean Cronin continued to look too good to be playing on this stage on Test weekend. His explosive break from deep yielded a penalty which in turn led to scrappy line-out turned good by dogged carries from Jordi and then Josh Murphy, forcing his way over for a 31st minute try on his very first start for his province.

Not content with just a complete reversal on the scoreboard, Leinster had their bonus point try within 20 minutes of slipping 10 – 0 behind.

Byrne again delivered an expert touch along the way, instantly looking up after a Larmour break to recognise that scrambling defenders were thin on the ground on the opposite flank.

In one fluid motion Byrne received possession and dropped a wonderfully-weighted ball from left wing to right in front of Fergus McFadden and the international wing gratefully accepted a tackle while popping a pass for the rampaging Deegan on his way to becoming Leinster’s second man to open a try-scoring account on the night,

Max Deegan runs in for a try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s testament to Byrne’s place-kicking that the scoreboard read 28 – 10 at half-time. None of his four first-half conversions where what you would call gimmes, but he dispatched each one with minimum fuss. A timely message, perhaps, in a month when many have been asking why Joey Carbery hasn’t been getting game-time at out-half below international level

The start of the second half didn’t bring the same promising signs as the first for the Dragons. Fullback Angus O’Brien was given the double punishment of a sin-bin and penalty try for a deliberate knock-on. And by the time he returned to the field Isa Nacewa was already wrapped up warm having dotted down his second of the night.

The deadly accurate touchline conversion that followed from Byrne would also prove to be his last major involvement as Cullen had the luxury of emptying all bar Jack Conan off his bench with 20 minutes still to play.

Jordan Larmour Jordan Larmour in full flight Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That left ample time for Larmour to score and then show off his sublime balanced running to set up O’Loughlin to round off another seriously impressive night for the Leinster production line..

 

Scorers

Leinster

Tries: J Gibson-Park, I Nacewa (2), J Murphy, M Deegan, Penalty Try, J Larmour R O’Loughlin

Conversions: R Byrne (5/5) , C Marsh ( 1/2)

Dragons

Tries: J Benjamin

Conversions: G Henson (1/1)

Drop-goal: G Henson (1/1)

Leinster:  Jordan Larmour, Fergus McFadden Rory O’Loughlin, Noel Reid; Isa Nacewa (Conor O’Brien ’54); Ross Byrne (Cathal Marsh ’60),.Jamison Gibson-Park (Nick McCarthy ’55): Ed Byrne (Peter Dooley ’48), Seán Cronin (Richardt Strauss ’48), Michael Bent (Andrew Porter ’49); Ross Molony ((Ian Nagle ’8 (Jack Conan ’67)), Scott Fardy; Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, Max Deegan.

Dragons: Angus O’Brien, Jared Rosser, Adam Warre, Jack Dixon (Connor Edwards ’65), Ashton Hewitt; Gavin Henson (Connor Edwards ’65), Sarel Pretorius (Arwel Robson ’65);  Sam Hobbs (Brock Harris ’40), Ellis Shipp (Gerard Ellis ’60), Lloyd Fairbrother, Joe Davies (Rynard Landman ’54), Matthew Screech, Aaron Wainwright, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin.

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