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Having been hammered by Leinster last weekend, the Newport Gwent Dragons gained some revenge on the newly crowned Magners League champions by running five tries past them at Rodney Parade on Friday night. The result secured eighth spot for the Welshmen in the final league table.
Leinster ran out comfortable 41-8 winners when the sides met at the RDS last Saturday but having drawn confidence of Tuesday’s dismissal of the Ospreys, the Dragons duly ended a frustrating season with two wins on the trot.
Paul Turner’s men put in a super-charged display, particularly during the opening 20 minutes when they scored four tries to leave a much-changed Leinster side shellshocked.
Hooker Steve Jones, scrum half Wayne Evans, prop Hugh Gustafson and centre Phil Dollman helped themselves to a try each as the Dragons started at break-neck speed.
They were over for their first try within three minutes of the start as fly-half Jason Tovey chipped forward, Rhodri Gomer Davies claimed the kick and found Jones who thundered over for the score.
Leinster complained of a knock-on in the build-up but television replays showed that the ball had bounced off Jones’ head and the Dragons were 7-0 to the good when Tovey added the conversion.
They made it to 17-0 before Leinster could reply. Jonathan Sexton was caught out of position as Dollman side-stepped his way through the visitors’ defence and his overhead pass put Evans through for a sixth-minute unconverted try.
The hosts sniffed out another try on the quarter hour when their pack stepped up through the gears.
After a good spell of possession, a lineout maul caused all sorts of problems for Leinster and Gustafson broke free to muscle his way over the try line.
With Gustafson’s first try for the region, the feel-good factor was back in the Dragons’ play and with the shackles off, it was hard not to wonder how their season would have panned out had they put in performances of this ilk, week in week out.
Leinster had won their last five games against Welsh opposition and their three wins on Welsh soil – at Cardiff, the Ospreys and Llanelli – went a long way to them securing the league crown.
Fly-half Sexton got them off the mark in Newport with an 18th-minute penalty goal but Dollman was soon cantering over for the Dragons’ bonus point try.
Teenager Tovey made a half break and Gareth Wyatt, the Dragons’ top try scorer in this season’s league, surged in off his right wing station before linking with Dollman who scored to the left of the posts.
Tovey converted for 24-3 but once Leinster were able to draw breath, they got back into the game with two tries before half-time.
Australian centre Michael Berne, who is leaving the province after a two-year stint with them, got over for their first try.
The Leinster forwards got up a head of steam with a series of drives and having pressed on the left, play was swung out to the right where the visitors had numbers and a Sexton pass put Berne into space for a seven-pointer.
Shane Horgan then put in his imprint on the game as he began the move that teed up a try for his Ireland team-mate Girvan Dempsey.
The big winger burst past Dollman initially and he got on the ball again to put Dempsey over for an unconverted score.
Tovey missed a penalty before the break, leaving the Dragons with a 24-15 lead to take into the second half.
Leinster increased the pressure on Turner’s side when Sexton booted a long range penalty, ten minutes after the resumption.
Yet the Dragons were not going to wilt and they put their toothless display in Dublin well and truly behind them with two veterans playing key roles.
Flanker and team captain Colin Charvis was as influential as ever in what could turn out to be his last game for the region.
The Welsh international was a terror on the deck, winning some vital turnovers for his side, and he also took some stopping with ball in hand.
Just when it looked like Leinster might edge ahead with winger Gary Brown making a couple of charges forward, the Dragons put prop Adam Black over for their fifth try.
A pass from Brian O’Driscoll was gobbled up in midfield and Wyatt was set free for the line. He was stopped short of the whitewash but the Dragons recycled quickly and although flanker James Harris failed to get over, replacement Black went over off the next phase.
The Cardiff Blues-bound Ceri Sweeney, on as a replacement for Tovey, knocked over the conversion from the right and the hosts were 34-18 ahead.
Five minutes later however, the Dragons lost replacement lock Adam Jones to the sin-bin for killing the ball and Leinster responded with a second try for Berne.
In what was one of the best games of the season, the tries kept coming and the eighth arrived in the 69th-minute when Sexton provided the assist for Berne to bulldoze his way over in the left corner.
But Sexton failed with his conversion attempt and although the Ireland ‘A’ international landed a late penalty after Harris had been yellow carded, there was no denying the Dragons only a second win in their last seven encounters with Leinster.
It was also a fitting way to send their team manager Jim McCreedy into retirement after his 40 years of unstinting service at Rodney Parade.