Leinster 52Dragons 10

Sean Farrell reports from the RDS

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ON A DAY for trumpeting returning internationals, Josh van der Flier marked the end of his ACL nightmare with the try that effectively put this Pro14 clash beyond the Dragons.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Wicklow man ruptured his knee ligaments when the Grand Slam remained a great big ‘if’ during Ireland’s Six Nations win away to France in February and tries from Sean Cronin, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jordan Larmour and Tadhg Furlong ensured he ended his eight-month absence with what eventually turned into a clear-cut bonus point win.

Though just a point separated these sides before kick-off, by the time the team-sheets were unveiled there was no doubting a gulf in class would be at play.

Leo Cullen welcomed back Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, James Ryan and Garry Ringrose among seven men making their first start of the Pro14 season. However, the Dragons ensured it was no gentle return for the double and Grand Slam-winning stars. Sexton in particular gave onlookers concern as he received physio attention to his neck.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

On a deliciously dry day for running rugby Leinster’s bright sparks ignited early. Nowhere more so than the right wing where Larmour danced and cut to create openings. Ringrose finished off an overlap inside five minutes, but referee Quinton Immelman called on the TMO to look at Ed Byrne’s action in the preceding ruck and the score was chalked off for the prop’s neck roll.

No chance of calling back Cronin once he and his head of steam burst onto a 10th-minute Gibson-Park reverse pass. The hooker stormed past covering backs and over the try-line with the supporting Sexton ushering him closer to the posts.

There were moments of excellence from the line-busting Henshaw, Sexton and the deft hands of Ringrose, but with breakdown pressure from Nic Cudd and Ross Moriarty on top of a malfunctioning line-out, Leinster were unable to turn sparks into daylight on the scoreboard until the stroke of half-time.

After Sexton nudged the hosts 10 points clear, the Dragons enjoyed their brightest spell of the game, building pressure through a long set of phases until the powerful forearms of Andrew Porter clamped on Brok Harris to force a penalty on the Leinster try-line.

As Leinster pressed the other way approaching half-time, Moriarty barged through the back of Sexton to summon physios to treat the out-half for the second time in his first 40 minutes of the season. The 33-year-old re-joined the play as his team-mates pressed inside the 22 and was on hand as Immelman and the TMO doled a yellow card to the Welsh international.

Against a seven-man pack, another clinical set-play from Leinster sent Van der Flier under the posts thanks to another Gibson-Park assist and the interval deficit for Bernard Jackman was 17-0.

While Dragons were first on the board in the second half thanks to Josh Lewis’ penalty, Gibson-Park was again the man making the difference in Leinster’s attack as he latched on to a terrific James Ryan offload to score the first of his two tries. And minutes later, the Kiwi scrum-half broke in his own half and delivered a kick to the right-hand corner for Larmour to hare after.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having lost a race to Lewis in the first half, the 21-year-old had no appetite to come second again and he duly torched the 10 and wing Hallam Amos before collecting the pill on the bounce at the line.

As it came time for the reinforcements to be sent on, Gibson-Park doubled up his try tally on an evening that ended with three direct assists before Jordan Williams brought the RDS to a quiet ovation with an utterly brilliant scything run that left blue shirts strewn all over one half of the field.

Try number six arrived for the hosts via Furlong and Sexton slotted his seventh kick of the night before he and Gibson-Park were called ashore, replaced by Noel Reid and debutant scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan.