Looks to be no way back for Leinster
Semi-final slot seems to be out of reach for champs
This was may well turn out to be the day Leinster released their grip on the PRO12 League.
They were stunned 25-22 by two tries from Dragons replacement James Benjamin at Rodney Parade yesterday. .
The mere fact all of the teams above the champions earned five points earlier in the weekend redoubled the pressure to win and in the style of four tries.
They looked odds-on to follow through on their intentions when they took a 15-8 lead with two tries in the bag and and the wind to be their friend in the second 40 minutes.
It didn’t work out that way, despite centre Ben Te’o giving them a 22-8 advantage with his second try in the 51st minute.
Leinster didn’t score again.
The Dragons began well when Jack McGrath was penalised for Jason Tovey to open up a 3-0 lead in the fifth minute.
This was followed by unbelievably inconsistent refereeing from Marius Mitrea where he warned at least two Dragons players about their positioning at a Leinster maul that travelled 20 metres only to punish the visitors immediately on engagement at two subsequent mauls.
The second of them concluded with hooker Rhys Thomas crashing to the line for 8-0 by the 12th minute.
Zane Kirchner’s class down the left put Darragh Fanning in enough space to free up Te’o before it took the joint effort of flanker Nic Cudd and centre Tyler Morgan to bundle him into touch.
Leinster’s Jimmy Gopperth chipped away at this when Dave Kearney was dumped in the tackle for 8-3 in the 19th minute.
The scrum suddenly took off and a rampaging run from lock Ben Marshall threatened more than the men behind him delivered.
Eventually, their continuity told when Te’o slipped inside Jack Dixon to level it up in the 38th minute.
Straight away, Gopperth duped prop Phil Price, fended off Jonathan Evans and held off Tom Prydie for a try the fly-half converted for 15-8 at the break.
The impression Leinster had broken the back of the job with the wind at their backs was strengthened when Te’o demonstrated his power with a straight arm into Dorian Jones and no little speed to make the posts for Gopperth’s extras to make it a 14-point game.
An accidental clash of heads had hooker Richardt Strauss down and out, Aaron Dundon coming into the front row temporarily. Prop Martin Moore was in like a flash to pinch a turnover when Dragons looked on the verge of striking back.
Marshall nailed scrum-half Evans off a maul but the low body angle of Dixon was too much for Gopperth and Gordon D’Arcy. Tovey’s conversion took the home side to within seven on the hour.
Matters were further complicated when Te’o was binned for no arms in the tackle, a borderline decision that deserved no worse than a penalty.
Wing Kearney had to be sure in his tackle to stop replacement Carl Meyer in the left corner.
When Leinster could not clear their lines, James Benjamin benefited from the vigilance of Toby Faletau and his nine Evans to pounce for a try which Tovey could not convert.
It looked like a let-off that would just about keep Leinster’s PRO12 ambitions alive until Faletau powered it up and the same Benjamin was on hand to take the ball home on the short side.
It leaves Leinster eight points behind the Ospreys with just three rounds to play. Surely, there is no way back from there.