Dragons defeated by leaders in Dublin
Spirited Dragons slipped to defeat in Dublin as undefeated league leaders Leinster underlined their BKT United Rugby Championship title credentials.
The Leinstermen went into the game as favourites having won all 13 games in the URC and four in the European Champions Cup before this RDS Arena clash.
Dragons captain Rhodri Williams dived over for a first half score, but Leinster showed all their power and clinical edge as they wrapped up a bonus point by the break.
Replacement JJ Hanrahan grabbed a second half score for the Men of Gwent, but it was Leinster who wrapped up maximum points to continue their quest for honours.
Dragons made five changes for the fixture with Ross Moriarty, Angus O’Brien, Will Reed, Ben Fry and Steff Hughes returning.
URC pacesetters Leinster were boosted by the release of four Ireland players from Six Nations duty – wing Jordan Larmour, full-back Jimmy O'Brien, prop Michael Milne and centre Jamie Osborne.
It was Leinster who opened the scoring inside five minutes through fly half Byrne, after incessant pressure from the kick-off.
Jack Dixon and Sio Tomkinson unloaded huge hits to try and force the home side back, the second leaving home hooker John McKee on the turf.
Liam Turner broke clear in midfield as Leinster stormed towards the line, but a second try was chalked off for double movement as the home forwards looked to crunch their way over.
Moriarty gave Dragons go forward with a bulldozing run up the middle while O’Brien and Ashton Hewitt looked to test the Irish out wide, as they forced a penalty only for Reed to miss his penalty.
A scrum penalty gave Dragons the chance to kick deep and secure a five-metre lineout, but ball was stripped as Leinster burst down the right wing.
Dragons continued to look to play at pace with Hewitt racing into space to win another penalty as Leinster infringed on the floor.
Flanagan’s men, though, were left frustrated as they spilled lineout ball and went unrewarded for a decent spell of pressure.
Leinster, by comparison, showed just how clinical they can be as home scrum half Luke McGrath picked off a pass and sped over from halfway.
A superb touch finder from O’Brien proved pivotal as twice Dragons drove close before they worked space for captain Williams to dive in.
Leinster hit back inside four minutes as a free kick at the lineout allowed the home side to attack quickly, with Scott Penny sending Ruddock over.
They wrapped up the bonus on the stroke of half-time as a break down the left set them free and Byrne snipped over for his second after massive pressure on the line.
The injured Dixon was replaced by Jordan Williams at the interval, with Tomkinson moving to centre only to be forced off himself minutes later.
Leinster extended the lead when Larmour darted down the shortside, just as Dragons thought they had averted danger by forcing the home side back.
Back came Dragons with Rhodri Jones, Coghlan, Fry and Basham all pushing for the line with huge carries, but there was no way past a home blue wall of defiance.
Williams was adding zip to the away attack and broke away again before the ball was recycled quickly by the onrushing Seiuli and Basham.
Dragons were finally rewarded when an offload from Hughes found Hanrahan and sent the replacement in under the posts.
Leinster, though, had the final word as an attack from deep from Jimmy O’Brien was finished off by Rob Russell before fellow replacement Charlie Tector went over from the final play.
05m Byrne t Byrne c 7-0
26m McGrath t Byrne c 14-0
33m Williams t Reed c 14-7
37m Ruddock t 19-7
40m Byrne t Byrne c 26-7
47m Lamour t 31-7
65m Hanrahan t Reed c 31-14
73m Russell t Tector c 38-14
79m Tector t 43-14
Leinster Rugby: Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Larmour, Liam Turner, Jamie Osborne, Dave Kearney, Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath, Michael Milne, John McKee, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, Brian Deeny, Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny, Max Deegan
Replacements: Lee Barron, Jack Boyle, Thomas Clarkson, Jason Jenkins, Will Connors, Nick McCarthy, Charlie Tector, Rob Russell
Dragons RFC: Angus O’Brien, Sio Tomkinson (Hanrahan 45), Steff Hughes, Jack Dixon (J. Williams 40), Ashton Hewitt, Will Reed, Rhodri Williams (L. Jones 66); Rhodri Jones (Seiuli 54), Brodie Coghlan (Benjamin 9-21, 66), Lloyd Fairbrother (Coleman 59), Matthew Screech, Ben Carter, Ben Fry (Lonsdale 55), Taine Basham, Ross Moriarty (Woodman 71)
Replacements: James Benjamin, Aki Seiuli, Chris Coleman, Sean Lonsdale, Ryan Woodman, Lewis Jones, JJ Hanrahan, Jordan Williams
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 68th competition game)