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Leinster’s pretenders laid down the gauntlet to their more established teammates as Joe Schmidt’s second string clinched a narrow 22-18 RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons.
Already assured of top spot in the regular season, Schmidt made 15 changes, completely overhauling the side that booked Leinster’s place in the Heineken Cup final last weekend.
But at Rodney Parade the stand-ins were just as impressive, ensuring Leinster have lost just once since September as they close in on a RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup double.
The Dragons were hoping to give Luke Charteris, making a 100th appearance for the region, as well as Aled Brew a memorable send-off but they found Leinster in no mood for sentimentality on Super Saturday.
Ian Madigan was impressive with the boot, racking up 17 points in total and it was he who put the European champions on their way, knocking over his first penalty in the third minute.
The Dragons began the match on the back of three straight defeats and two losses in a row at Rodney Parade, staring down the barrel of losing three consecutive matches on home soil for the first time.
But just three minutes after Madigan broke the deadlock, Lewis Robling levelled the scores with a three-pointer of his own.
Madigan then wrestled back the advantage on nine minutes with his second penalty of the match and had his third just four minutes later as the league leaders began to pull clear of the Dragons.
Robling then notched his second effort of the night to make sure the Dragons were clinging to Leinster’s coattails but the inevitable opening try of the game came the Irish province’s way on 22 minutes – prop Jack McGrath pushing his way over after some concerted forwards pressure from the visitors.
Madigan secured the conversion but he was off target with a penalty on the stroke of half-time as Leinster went in at the break 16-6 to the good.
A subdued opening to the second half ensued but Madigan continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over as the Dragons’ indiscipline cost them dear.
He added his first penalty of the second half on 64 minutes and after a flurry of replacements for both sides, including the withdrawal of Charteris to a standing ovation, Madigan made it 22-6 with nine minutes remaining.
Welsh international Dan Lydiate then gave the Rodney Parade faithful something to cheer about as he crossed the try-line with three minutes remaining before Adam Hughes added the extras.
And the Dragons earned a bonus point and restored some pride in the closing stages as Will Harries grabbed another try but this time Hughes was off target with the conversion.
The Dragons, who began the night safe in the knowledge that the bottom two clubs could not catch them, end the season in ninth spot while Leinster can look forward to a home semi-final against Glasgow.