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Crowds back in the RDS for first time in 470 days as Leinster stroll to victory

Leinster defeated Dragons 38-7 at the RDS tonight in front of 1200 fans.

Leinster fans celebrate Ryan Baird's try.
Leinster fans celebrate Ryan Baird's try.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

LEINSTER 38

DRAGONS 7

Garry Doyle reports

IT WAS A game that meant nothing; it was a game that meant everything.

Yes, it was a dead rubber, the first time in six years Leinster have finished their season with a meaningless fixture, and yet for 1200 people – including Tanaiste Leo Varadkar, it was their biggest match of their year.

Or, to put things another way, it was their only match of the year.

Seeing supporters in a stadium again, hearing supporters in a stadium again, has never felt more important, not because it reminds us of how things used to be, more because it offers a glimpse of how the future might look.

They cheered, they sang, they waved their blue flags; they drank it all in.

We used to take these things for granted. For 1200 people, tonight felt like Christmas morning, 470 days passing since the last time fans were inside the RDS, the unwrapping of every present greeted with cheers.

When Ross Byrne kicked off – the crowd were on their feet.

When Leinster nicked a second minute line-out; they roared again.

Then Jimmy O’Brien tackled Sam Davies on half-way, and you’d have sworn he’d announced a lock-in down his local for everyone in the ground.

sam-davies-is-tackled-by-jimmy-obrien O'Brien's tackle on Davies had the crowd off their feet. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Six minutes in, he was getting Leinster’s opening try, scored off a set piece, James Ryan with the catch, Jamison Gibson Park adding zip to their backline before a combination of Rory O’Loughlin’s footwork and Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan’s handling set O’Brien free.

He finished calmly, the crowd cheered heartily, their flags waving in the air, the scoreboard moving to 5-0. Thirty seconds later, it was ticking over again, Ross Byrne converting, Leinster leading by seven.

That set the tone for the opening quarter, half a dozen Leinster players getting full marks for their performance, among them Caelan Doris who hauled down Rhodri Williams in the end-goal area after the Dragons captain had made what looked like a try-scoring break.

That moment served as a microcosm of the opening half-hour. Every now and then Dragons looked fairly decent but they were guilty of not working hard enough for their reward.

caelan-doris-with-brok-harris-and-sam-davies Doris had an effective game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

You couldn’t say that about Leinster. Their backline looked a lot sharper with Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half and with Garry Ringrose back looking like Garry Ringrose again.

He crossed for their second try – Doris putting Leinster on the front foot initially before a clever piece of handling by Scott Fardy preceded an electrifying burst down the wing by Jordan Larmour, Ringrose providing the supporting run to finish the move off.

By 19 minutes, there’d be a third try, Doris, Ringrose and Ross Byrne involved in the build-up, Byrne with the final pass out to Larmour, who had cleverly held his width. The winger collected, accelerated and scored. Just like that.

jordan-larmour-scores-a-try Larmour touches down for his first try. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There and then you feared for Dragons. Yet they’re an improved team, still short of being considered a good one, but strong enough to recover from this awful start to profit from Ronan Kelleher’s ten-minute spell in the sinbin, at which point the Welsh side finally got a score.

Davies was the one who crossed for them, after he spotted a gap in the Leinster backline; but by now we were noticing the things they were capable of doing rather than busily listing their shortcomings.

Having half-backs as decent as Williams and Davies is one thing; but the discovery of a potential star at lock in Ben Carter is potentially more important.

On another night we’d be singing his virtues for longer than a paragraph but this isn’t the time for that, not when you consider what Ryan Baird did in the 44th minute, as the Leinster second row sidestepped his way past a couple of Dragons defenders en route to the tryline.

Gibson-Park accompanied him every step of the way, weaving in and out of retreating Dragons forwards, exchanging passes with Baird, the last of which allowed the youngster to score. That made it 26-7, 44 minutes on the clock. 

It was when the clock moved to 9.28pm that the crowd were on their feet again, Michael Bent and Scott Fardy making their way off the pitch, their final acts as professionals. A standing ovation greeted them as the curtain fell one last time. 

There was still time for a second Jimmy O’Brien try to be chalked off – also time for Warren Gatland to note how well Ringrose was playing. If he needs to call on a centre between now and August, he’d be wise to ask Leo Cullen for his number.

While he’s at it he should have scribble down Keenan’s and Larmour’s, too. That pair combined for Leinster’s fifth try, on 61 minutes, the timing and speed of Keenan’s delivery making it easy for Larmour. The replacement front row had provided the initial platform; Gibson-Park the continuity.

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On it went. Scott Penny ended a six-game drought to get the 16th try of his Leinster career, this one stemming from a succession of short, sharp, passes from Doris, Ross Byrne and Harry Byrne – Penny showing a good bit of pace to make it to the line. 67 minutes played, Leinster ahead 38-7.

Yet the win wasn’t just down to their attack. Their defence was resolute, hardworking, organised; their work at the breakdown was key; their set-piece was good and three of their players, Ringrose, Ryan and Doris weren’t just good. They were exceptional. So was the sight of 1200 happy fans. Normality is coming back.

Scorers

Leinster

Tries: J O’Brien, Ringrose, Larmour 2, Baird, Penny

Conversions: R Byrne (4/6)

Dragons

Tries: Sam Davies

Conversions: Sam Davies (1/1)

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan (Cian Kelleher ’69); Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (capt), Rory O’Loughlin (rep: Harry Byrne ’27), Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park (rep: Luke McGrath ’62); Cian Healy (rep: Michael Milne ‘54), Rónan Kelleher (yellow card 23-33, rep: James Tracy ’55), Michael Bent (rep: Vakh Abdaladze ’54); Ryan Baird, James Ryan; Scott Fardy (rep: Devin Toner ’54), Scott Penny (rep: Josh van der Flier ’73), Caelan Doris.

DRAGONS: Josh Lewis (rep: Jack Dixon ’44); Owen Jenkins, Aneurin Owen, Jamie Roberts, Rio Dyer (rep: Ioan Davies ’16); Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (rep: Gonzalo Bertranou ‘47); Brok Harris (rep: Josh Reynolds ’60), Elliot Dee (rep: Richard Hibbard ’68), Aaron Jarvis (rep: Lee Yeandle ’74); Joe Davies rep: Joe Maksymiw ’56), Ben Carter; Harrison Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, Ross Moriarty (rep: Taine Basham ’23).

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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