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Leinster snuff out Dragons

PRO14 League: Leinster 35 Dragons 5

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Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton is replaced by Ross Byrne at the RDS Arena last night. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton is replaced by Ross Byrne at the RDS Arena last night. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton is replaced by Ross Byrne at the RDS Arena last night. Photo: Sportsfile

No sign of Andy Farrell this week at the RDS and in fairness to the Ireland coach there wasn't much to learn from this comfortable and comprehensive Leinster win in the Guinness PRO14.

The Ireland coach did have a delegation at the game and his phone was surely lighting up just after half-past-eight as his captain Johnny Sexton left the field with a suspected hamstring injury just three weeks out from the rescheduled Six Nations clash against Italy.

Given the issues at tighthead, the sight of Andrew Porter limping off won't have helped his mood.

Against a Dragons side whose garish kit was the only element that caused any upset, the PRO14 champions barely noticed the absence of their skipper as they took the first step in moving on from their Champions Cup defeat to Saracens.

Sexton played a role in their first two tries before leaving the fray, but led by the excellent Rhys Ruddock and the lively Hugo Keenan they were just too strong for the men in grey and pink.

They haven't played at the RDS in eight months and the place was eerily quiet without the home fans, but even without the noise they were able to go back to their PRO14 routine.

As well as Sexton and Porter, Ciarán Frawley and Max Deegan left the fray injured ahead of Leinster's trip to Benetton next week but this was another example of how much better they are than most of the field in this tournament.

Dragons may be perennial strugglers, but they have strengthened under coach Dean Ryan and have a collection of current and past Wales stars. They couldn't come close to Leinster's level

If Sexton's botched kick-off was a call-back to the Saracens defeat, the dominant scrum that followed and forced a penalty was a reminder that Leinster were back on their old stomping ground.

They almost scored when Hugo Keenan got a hand to Sexton's chip-through but couldn't ground, but they had to do some defending before they finally got off the mark 17 minutes in with James Ryan responsible for one big turnover.

The opening try started with Keenan reading a Sam Davies kick and returning it with interest. Josh van der Flier carried hard, before Sexton sent James Lowe through a tiny gap. Once on a front-foot, the home side turned the screw and, with referee Andrea Piardi playing advantage, Garry Ringrose scooted over off a Jamison Gibson-Park pass.

The Italian compounded the Dragons' woe by sending Roberts to the sin-bin for a high hit on Tommy O'Brien and, after a long wait, Sexton made no mistake from the touchline.

They didn't have to wait long for a second, returning the kick-off with interest and working their way through the phases with Lowe again prominent and Rhys Ruddock carrying hard before a superb Sexton pass found Jordan Larmour wide. He stepped inside the cover and powered over.

Ringrose converted from the touchline as Sexton left the fray, but his side didn't miss a beat and added their third try after a neat passing move saw O'Brien slip Lowe in on the left wing.

Ross Byrne became the third kicker of a touchline conversion in blue, but Leinster needed some great last ditch defending to keep their line intact after Jonah Holmes beat Ringrose all-ends-up and Sam Davies tripped as he headed over. O'Brien got in and forced the penalty that kept it at 21-0 at half-time.

Lowe added another 16 minutes after the restart thanks to a sumptuous Ringrose wide pass and Byrne converted the bonus point score with aplomb.

The Dragons finally got the score their effort merited when they moved it wide to winger Ashton Hewitt who finished spectacularly in the corner.

Davies missed the kick, Ryan almost scored a superb try of his own when he stripped Nick Tompkins of the ball and raced towards the line only to be denied by a Rhodri Williams tap-tackle.

Dragons forced a penalty, but then botched the lineout and Ryan Baird did what his second-row partner couldn't as he collected the loose throw with his first touch and ran over Davies and Williams to score his side's fifth and final try.