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Leinster start new season with bonus-point win but Sexton injury a concern

James Lowe scored two tries as the defending champions beat the Dragons at the RDS.

Leinster 35

Dragons 5

THE NEW PRO14 season started in familiar fashion as Leinster secured a bonus-point win that featured two James Lowe tries, but Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was left with a potential injury concern as Johnny Sexton was replaced in the first half due to a calf injury.

james-ryan-and-nick-tompkins James Ryan carries in Leinster's bonus-point win over the Dragons. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 35-year-old walked off just after providing a brilliant pass for Jordan Larmour’s 23rd-minute try. Farrell will hope it was simply precautionary with the resumption of Ireland’s 2020 Six Nations campaign just three weekends away.

With second-half replacement Andrew Porter leaving the pitch with a few minutes remaining due to a lower-leg issue, Farrell could have another problem at tighthead prop too, while back row Max Deegan was forced off in the second half with a concerning knee injury.

To be fair, Leinster hardly needed their captain to get the job done against a disappointing Dragons team that had no answer for their power and invention, despite the presence of a host of Wales internationals.

Tries from Garry Ringrose and the exciting Ryan Baird added to the Lowe brace and Larmour’s score, while Leinster were 100% off the tee as Sexton, Ringrose, and Ross Byrne all kicked conversions.

Hugo Keenan was excellent at fullback with Ireland assistant coaches Mike Catt and John Fogarty watching on at the RDS, while scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park’s impressive form continued too as he was named man of the match.

Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan were physically dominant from the back row and James Ryan influential from the second row, as Ringrose delivered yet another classy showing at outside centre, while 22-year-old Tommy O’Brien also showed well in midfield after replacing Ciarán Frawley just 10 minutes in.

johnny-sexton-goes-off-injured Sexton was replaced after just 23 minutes. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster had a possible early try correctly ruled out by the TMO as Keenan knocked-on Sexton’s clever grubber kick into the in-goal area, but they were ahead inside the first quarter and it was a big Lowe linebreak off Sexton’s inside pass that did the initial damage.

Lowe offloaded to Keenan and Leinster went through some punishing phases as Jamie Roberts high tackled O’Brien – on for Frawley after the inside centre suffered a head injury while tackling Roberts – just before Ringrose crossed wide on the right. 

Sexton converted impressively and with Roberts sin-binned, Leinster attacked directly from the restart reception, the likes of Ringrose, Conan, Ruddock, and Gibson-Park featuring strongly as they went all the way down the other end of the pitch, where Sexton threw a beautiful double-skip pass for Larmour to finish on the left.

That was it for Sexton as Ringrose nailed his conversion from wide out, but Leinster had their third try just after the half-hour mark as replacement out-half Byrne, Larmour, and O’Brien showed slick hands to send Lowe over in the left corner.

Byrne converted for a 21-o lead that Leinster held through to half-time, although Dragons nearly scored when Jonah Holmes broke Ringrose’s tackle attempt and passed back inside to Sam Davies, only for the out-half to slip and be turned over by the hard-working O’Brien.

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garry-ringrose-celebrates-scoring-the-first-try-of-the-game-with-jamison-gibson-park Leinster celebrate Garry Ringrose's first-half try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The opening 15 minutes of the second half were scrappy but Leinster notched their bonus-point score in the 56th as a break from Gibson-Park helped them to earn a penalty to kick into the right corner, from where their maul earned penalty advantage and Ringrose flung a pass wide left for Lowe to break Josh Lewis’ tackle attempt and score.

Byrne kept up the Leinster record of touchline conversions but the Dragons finally struck back just three minutes later as wing Ashton Hewitt finished acrobatically in the left corner to draw them back to 28-5.

Ryan nearly scored Leinster’s fifth after making a strip in the tackle and nearly charging home from 20 metres, but 21-year-old Ryan Baird – literally just off the bench – instead crossed just after as he pinched the Dragons lineout and explosively went through three tackles to finish.

Byrne converted for 35-5 and Leinster were able to completely empty their bench as the 2020/21 campaign began with a big win.  

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe [2], Ryan Baird

Conversions: Johnny Sexton [1 from 1], Garry Ringrose [1 from 1], Ross Byrne [3 from 3]

Dragons scorers:

Tries: Ashton Hewitt

Conversions: Sam Davies [0 from 1]

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley (Tommy O’Brien ’10), James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne ’23), Jamison Gibson-Park (Luke McGrath ’68); Ed Byrne (Cian Healy ’50), Rónan Kelleher (Seán Cronin ’50), Michael Bent (Andrew Porter ’50 – reversal ’75); Scott Fardy, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock (yellow card ’76), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Max Deegan ’50 (Ryan Baird ’63)).  

DRAGONS: Will Talbot-Davies (Josh Lewis ’50); Jonah Holmes, Nick Tompkins, Jamie Roberts (yellow card ’17) (Adam Warren ’73), Ashton Hewitt; Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (captain) (Tavis Knoyle ’68); Brok Harris (Conor Maguire ’63), Elliot Dee (Richard Hibbard ’72), Aaron Jarvis (Lloyd Fairbrother ‘HT); Joe Davies, Joe Maksymiw (Matthew Screech ’50); Aaron Wainwright, Harrison Keddie (Taine Basham ’64), Ross Moriarty. 

Referee: Andrea Piardi [FIR].

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey discuss the provinces’ 2020/21 starts, the South African-infused Pro16, and the schools-versus-clubs dynamic in Ireland


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from the RDS

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