A historic and thrilling bonus point win for the Newport Gwent Dragons ensures the team and supporters alike will go into next weekend’s European Challenge Cup semi-final with their heads held high.
A rousing fight back from 14 points down to become 25-22 victors has captured the Dragons first league double over Leinster in the history of Regional rugby.
The Irishmen set their stall out by naming a strong squad to play at Rodney Parade with the intention of gaining revenge for the Dragons victory in Dublin earlier in the season. The Men of Gwent though had other ideas, and after a tricky encounter, came out on top to not only dent Leinster’s hopes of a play-off place but to put further distance between themselves and the Blues; opening the gap between the fierce rivals to 7 points.
The Dragons started the game well and found themselves 8 points up after a scrum penalty duly slotted between the uprights by Tovey followed by a driving lineout for T. Rhys Thomas to dot down over the Leinster try line. The lineout was set on the Leinster 5m thanks to a superbly accurate touch finder from Dorian Jones; the Dragons then took a familiar route to the try line with a maul finely tuned over the course of the season.
The try served as a wake up call to the Leinster men with the Dragons being forced to defend for lengthy periods throughout the remainder of the first half. Hard graft and even harder tackling from the likes of Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon were not enough to prevent the boys in blue from crossing the Dragons try line.
First, centre Ben Te’o created space in the Dragons midfield and exploited it well, finishing powerfully to get Leinster into the game. Then with barely a couple of minutes played from the restart Jimmy Gopperth found himself as the grateful recipient of an overthrown lineout, a sharp sidestep was enough to make the break and the kiwi fly half used the bulk of his frame to power through a would be Jonathan Evans tackle to dot down and convert his own try.
Half Time: Dragons 8 – Leinster 15
Leinster would come out for the second half hoping to add to the late tries scored in the first half and again Ben Te’o burst through some lacklustre home defence to leave Gopperth with a simple conversion in front of the posts. With 30 minutes remaining the Dragons would have to come back from 22-8 down to take the win.
The Dragons found resolve and steely determination to pull themselves back into the game and after an attempt to drive over the line from a lineout came short the Dragons would need to find another way to get the try. With the heavy hitting front row setting themselves up to batter away at the Leinster defence Jonathan Evans delivered a crisp flat pass with Jack Dixon stooping low to burrow over the try line with two players not enough to stop the promising young centre. Tovey converted and with 20 minutes to play the crowd roared to life.
The Dragons were now playing with a skip in their step and attack on their minds, as a venture into the Leinster twenty-two ended with an almighty tackle on Hallam Amos by Ben Te’o. The all action centre was adjudged by the TMO to have not used him arms in the tackle and saw the yellow card.
Territory was now firmly with the Dragons and as Leinster attempted to release pressure with a box kick, the substantial frame of Toby Faletau charged down. Jonathan Evans was quickest to react and a clever flick back landed in the arms of James Benjamin for the Dragons third try. The Dragons were now just two points behind Leinster but were unable to take a share of the lead when what should have been a fairly simple conversion struck the upright.
Even if the conversion had been landed you’d still expect both teams to go all out for one more score to get the all-important win. And, with Leinster holding on for dear life, Taulupe Faletau was impressive as ever when making serious headway from the base of the scrum inside the opposition twenty-two. The forwards were right on his tail to clear the ruck and the quick ball was spun left to James Benjamin in space for the young flanker to go over for his second try of the afternoon. This time the angle of the conversion was much tighter and the ball sailed narrowly wide. Still, the Dragons now held a three-point lead at 25-22 and a nervy final few moments were in the offing.
Leinster were intent on scoring but could just about manage to make their way to the half way line. The fresh legs of Luke Fitzgerald threatened to break the Dragon defensive line but when he was tackled to the ground it was none other than Man of the Match Jack Dixon who won the penalty at the breakdown to put an end to a magnificent game of rugby.
Final Scores: Dragons 25 – Leinster 22
Dragons Team: Jason Tovey, Tom Prydie, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Hallam Amos, Dorian Jones, Jonathan Evans; Phil Price, T. Rhys Thomas ©, Brok Harris, James Thomas, Cory Hill, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Taulupe Faletau.
Leinster Team: Zane Kirchner, Dave Kearney, Ben Te’o, Gordon D’Arcy, Darragh Fanning, Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Martin Moore, Ben Marshall, Mike McCarthy, Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings ©, Jack Conan.
Referee: Marius Mitrea
Man of the Match: jack Dixon