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McGrath leads Blues to summit


Lenister's Jack McGrath attacks against Lewis Evans of Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS

Lenister's Jack McGrath attacks against Lewis Evans of Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS

T Rhys Thomas is tackled by Ian Madigan as Leinster defeat Newport Gwent Dragons to go top of the Pro 12 table

T Rhys Thomas is tackled by Ian Madigan as Leinster defeat Newport Gwent Dragons to go top of the Pro 12 table

Jack McGrath goes over to score his Leinster's first try against Newport Gwent Dragons

Jack McGrath goes over to score his Leinster's first try against Newport Gwent Dragons


Lenister's Jack McGrath attacks against Lewis Evans of Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS

Leinster eventually found a route to the top of the Pro12 table, but itl wasn't exactly the result of a five-star performance on a night not without its pitfalls against a doughty Dragons side.

Indeed, in almost the last action of the night, a red card for Franciso Chapparo for a fiendish spear tackle on Isaac Boss, will have sent shivers down the spine of watching Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

Otherwise, all the rest of Schmidt's erstwhile, now current charges – including Eoin Reddan – emerged unscathed.

And he would also have been impressed by the wonderful performance of Jack McGrath, surely pushing hard for a start against Italy in three weeks' time when the Ireland coach begins to rotate his starting line-up.

Leinster have only lost once in the past three seasons of what is usually fair to middling – mostly middling – fare, when this league is held in conjunction with the Six Nations.

The strength of their squad is a key factor; Jamie Heaslip underlined this solidarity by acting as water carrier on what should nominally be a weekend off for the teak-tough Irish back-row.


During this time of the year, Leinster successes have usually come against limited but willing competitors like last night's visitors, annoying opponents who loiter without real intent, like one of those tuneless violin players who gormlessly circle candlelit dinner tables.

It was the calm after the storm as this game was played in perfect conditions; sadly, much of the rugby failed to match the environment.

Dragons, as they are wont to do, held on to the ball for the first two minutes. As is also their wont, they promptly turned it over without ever really going anywhere and, from a Leinster scrum penalty, the home side kicked for a territorial line-out close in.

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Leinster were soon punching familiar holes, though and, with Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy prominent, Dragons' difficulties on the floor allowed Ian Madigan to kick his side into a 15th minute lead.

Leinster's scrum was in fine nick, too; good news for the trio who completed last weekend's comprehensive triumph against Wales a decent penalty kick away from here.

Still, annoyingly, the Dragons hung around, conceding a barely credible eight penalties before the Romanian referee deigned to correctly bin one of their number; that Leinster's only two penalty concessions were from attacking rucks told a tale.

Remarkably, the Welsh were tied at 3-3 before Leinster breathed some air; Jason Tovey, though, shouldn't have been able to slot a drop goal as Fergus McFadden's touch-finder was ruled out on the full, even though it clearly bounced in-field.

No matter.

With a man down, Dragons were wheezing. Jack McGrath made them wheeze more than most, blasting a huge hole on the blindside before, nine phases later, he swatted aside a stationary Rob Sidoli before slicing Richie Rees in two as he crashed over the line.

Madigan's conversion a minute before the break at least made the half-time tea taste a tad sweeter and one confidently predicted that they would iron out the creaks in their first-half effort and steal a march confidently towards a five-pointer.

Eh, not quite.

The Dragons suddenly played a different tune, albeit helped by Leinster being woefully off-key. Again, ruck ball was their downfall as the Welsh stung them with two sucker punch tries to turn 3-10 into 13-10 in the space of three slapstick, slack-jawed minutes.

It all began so innocently, with Leinster piling on the pressure. Then, yet again, they turned over an attacking ruck, the ball was belted from one '22' to the other and, as Leinster tried to clear, they were turned over again.

Dragons filtered the ball deftly from left to right and Matthew Pewtner evaded Brendan Macken's flailing tackle to pop the ball up to Ashley Smith to dot down.

A couple of minutes later, Leinster staged a virtual action replay for Welsh benefit; this time, Murphy took the ball into contact on his '22.'

The ball squirmed comically between the legs of Isaac Boss like some disobedient toddler and away the Dragons scampered once more.

On this occasion, Rees touched down as Macken – among others – were left all at sea in the hopelessly wrong-footed defence.

Neither try was converted, but, when Tovey managed a penalty for 16-10 in the 53rd minute, those ladies and gentlemen who had opted for a night of gritty sport over romance were shifting nervously in their seats.

Despite their appalling breakdown efforts, Leinster roused themselves sufficiently by the hour mark to get back into Dragons' territory, back into contention and back into the lead.

After Jevon Groves became the second opponent to be binned – for an illegal line-out sacking – Leinster's pressure then told in the dominant scrum exchanges, leaving the Romanian whistler no option, but to award a penalty try as the hour mark passed.

Madigan's conversion edged Leinster 17-16 ahead.

Matt O'Connor, who had already hooked Shane Jennings, then slotted Jimmy Gopperth into the out-half berth as Leinster, belatedly, pushed for the winning post.

They did so, securing the five-pointer to boot, via a replica scrum with 13 minutes left on the clock. Dragons were reeling in every which way now, as Madigan's extras made it 24-16.

Leinster retired their front-row, Dragons retired their challenge – Darren Hudson added a fourth try – and the home support retired happy after a night of mud, wet and beers.

Leinster – Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B Macken, N Reid (J Gopperth 61), D Fanning; I Madigan, E Reddan (I Boss 47 (D Hudson 80)); J McGrath (M Bent 68), S Cronin (A Dundon 71), M Moore (T Furlong 69), L Cullen capt, M McCarthy (T Denton 61), R Ruddock, S Jennings (D Ryan 53), J Murphy.

Dragons – H Amos (R Wardle 72); M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith (R Wardle 53), W Harries; J Tovey, R Rees (W Evans 59); O Evans (A Coundley 66), T Rhys Thomas (S Parry 60), N Buck (F Chaparro 59), C Hill, R Sidoli capt (M Screech 59), L Evans, N Cudd, N Talei (J Groves 33).

Ref - M Mitrea (FIR).

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