Dragons defeated on opening night
Champions Leinster underlined their title credentials for another season as battling Dragons suffered an opening day Guinness PRO14 defeat at the RDS in Dublin.
Dragons boss Dean Ryan urged his team ahead of the clash to take the game to the league’s ‘Invincibles’ – unbeaten in 17 games and on the back of a third successive crown.
And the Director of Dragons Rugby will take plenty from the league clash as Dragons fought valiantly throughout, asked plenty of questions of the Irish province and were unfortunate not to score more.
Leo Cullen’s men, at full strength after the European upset to Saracens, did race into an impressive 21-0 lead at the break – aided by a yellow card to Jamie Roberts.
And Leinster, who have not lost on the opening weekend if fixtures since 2015, wrapped up the win and the bonus point in the second half.
However, there was still time for a superb finish from Ashton Hewitt – his 27th for the region – as Dragons left Dublin empty-handed but with plenty of positives to build on.
Dragons featured new recruits Roberts, Nick Tompkins and Jonah Holmes from the start , but it was the home side that burst out of the traps in ominous fashion.
Full back Hugo Keenan was denied by the TMO and a knock on as he looked to ground a neat kick in behind from Ireland international Jonny Sexton.
Great defence by Roberts disrupted Leinster ball before Ross Moriarty and Elliot Dee rumbled into contact as Dragons looked to mount a response to the early blows.
A first sustained attack from Ryan’s men was halted as the Irish won a penalty in the shadow of the posts, but it had been an encouraging start after weathering the early storm.
However, Leinster showed their ruthless streak after 17 minutes as James Lowe burst away and eventually numbers told as Garry Ringrose went over in the corner.
The try was compounded by a yellow card to Roberts for a high tackle in the build-up. With the extra man, Leinster went through the gears and scored a second after a long miss pass from Sexton found Jordan Larmour to crash over.
Leinster grabbed another after slick hands opened up space for Lowe to score and Byrne became the third player to land a touchline conversion.
Dragons, though, were not being overrun and were posing questions of their own with back row trio Wainwright, Moriarty and Keddie getting through a huge amount of work.
They came agonisingly close to reward in the final seconds of the half as Tompkins and Roberts punched holes in midfield before Holmes brushed off a tackle to open up space.
The wing intelligently drew the final man before popping the ball to Davies on his left shoulder, but the playmaker lost his footing with the line looming.
Dragons continued to trade blows at the start of the second half with Tompkins showing great strength to power on and win a penalty to force Leinster into the corner.
But a lost lineout saw the chance go begging, while Leinster were not so obliging at the other end as clean ball was spun wide left for Lowe to wriggle out of a tackle and score.
A simply stunning finish from Hewitt, who had no right to dot down acrobatically under intense pressure, saw Dragons open their account.
Leinster, though, hit straight back and snatched a fifth score with Ryan Baird the man to score after the ball was lost by Dragons at the lineout.
A brave late flurry from the visitors saw Hewitt dance sway from tackles and Josh Lewis and Joe Davies make a dart for the line as Dragons looked to land another try.
Rhys Ruddock was yellow carded after a succession of penalties on the Leinster line, but there was to be no final word despite a grandstand finish from the region.
17m Ringrose t Sexton c 7-0
22m Larmour t Ringrose c 14-0
32m Lowe t Byrne c 21-0
55m Lowe t Byrne c 28-0
60m Hewitt t 28-5
65m Baird t Byrne c 35-5
Leinster: Huge Keenan, Jordan Lamour, Garry Ringrose, Ciaran Frawley (O’Brien 11), James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (Byrne 25), Jamison Gibson-Park (McGrath 67); Ed Byrne (Healy 50), Ronan Kelleher (Cronin 50), Michael Bent (Porter 50), Scott Fardy, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan (Deegan 49 (Baird 62))
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Tommy O’Brien
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies (Lewis 50); Jonah Holmes, Nick Tompkins, Jamie Roberts (Warren 72), Ashton Hewitt, Sam Davies, Rhodri Williams (Knoyle 68); Brok Harris (Maguire 63), Elliot Dee (Hibbard 71), Aaron Jarvis (Fairbrother 41), Joe Davies, Joe Maksymiw (Screech 50), Aaron Wainwright, Harri Keddie (Basham 65) Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Conor Maguire, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Taine Basham, Tavis Knoyle, Josh Lewis, Adam Warren
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Ita)