10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
The tempo of this game was a step up from what has preceded it in this tournament. So there was no question of a little gentle feeling your way back into it. The Dragons have been an improving side, and if they looked more fluent then it was no great shock. Kidney alluded to this when asked afterwards if he was happy with how his returning internationals played. His response that you could see the difference between a side that had played six times together this season and one that was playing its first was hardly a ringing endorsement.
The first half was evenly contested. Leinster scored an opportunist try when Contepomi tried to offload to O'Driscoll but the ball came off the latter's knee. The centre capitalised on it to hack through for Horgan to his right. He showed good footwork at pace to control his kick ahead and good pace to dive gleefully on it.
But the good work was undone by a couple of moments that won't find a spot in Gary Brown's video compilation. From a slow maul in midfield the Dragons moved right and found the Leinster defence in the shape of Brown in too narrow, allowing them to hit fullback Morgan at pace. He simply drew last man Hickie and sent man of the match Gareth Wyatt in despite Brown's cover tackle in the corner.
The Dragons' second try also came down that wing as Morgan drilled a grubber to the corner. Brown appeared to have it covered but a combination of his lack of alacrity and a sideways bounce on the final roll of the ball allowed Wyatt to get the touch first.
Felipe Contepomi had a first half to forget as well, as his punting lacked authority, but his placekicking has been solid and a good conversion of Horgan's try and a further penalty accounted for the remainder of Leinster's first half scoring. Trouble was Ceri Sweeney, who has the best placekicking percentage in the league, tacked on a couple of his own, one against Ricky Nebbett who has conceded too many in his short time here, to turn at 16-10 to the Dragons.
One felt that if Leinster could hang in in the early part of the match, they would hit their straps later on. In fact, it was in the latter part of the match that they lack of match practice kicked in. The third quarter was very tight. Leinster couldn't make much headway against Chris Anderson's 'rugby league' style defence, reflecting the Dragons' coach's provenance.
But Contempomi did the needful with a penalty against the Dragons loosehead on 43 minutes to narrow the gap to three. There followed 25 minutes of score-free rugby in which neither side could get the upper hand, despite a cartload of commitment on both sides. Leinster continued to try to m ake the breakthrough with ball in hand on a slippery night, when perhaps a focus on territory might have served them better.
Brian O'Driscoll was putting in plenty of defensive hits and working hard, but the trademark offloads out of the tackle, that will come off later in the year, weren't coming off.
The death came dripping slow, as in the 68th minute Sweeney converted a penalty against Nebbett to nudge the score to 19-13. No need to panic. But when a further Sweeney penalty on 72 minutes (given for going to deck on the tackled man - a recurrent theme) stretched the Dragons out to 22-13, nine points looked too much.
And so it proved. Despite introducing 6 subs on 73 minutes, the remaining rugby came when Gareth Wyatt hit a brilliant inside line in midfield. His pace took him clear and the pass sent Cooper in for the try.
In the final minute, the Dragons got a cherished bonus point when fullback Morgan again scorched outside the narrow defence to send the locals home very happy on a final scoreline of 34-13.