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Leinster Rugby vs Zebre
Rabodirect Pro 12 Round 17
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 21st March 2014, 19:15

Television: Live - RTE 2, Mediaset

The gift to Irish rugby that is Joe Schmidt just keeps on giving. On the foot on his unprecedented success as Leinster coach, he has now delivered a Six Nations championship in his first season in the Ireland job. Hopefully it's only a start too and there's a lot more success to come the way of the Ireland team in the next few seasons. It was also wonderful to see Brian O'Driscoll finish his Ireland career with another medal around his neck.

Though his days in green are over, O'Driscoll still has business to attend to in the blue jersey and the whole Leinster squad will be busting a gut to make sure he finishes with at least one more medal in the next two months. There's a massive Heineken Cup game away to Toulon in two weeks' time but before that it's back to Pro12 business. Leinster went top of the table for the first time since the opening game of the season on the foot of beating Glasgow and Munster losing to the Scarlets two weeks ago. To make sure they have the best chance of hosting the last match of O'Driscoll's career at the RDS, they'll have to stay on top.

Of their six remaining games, four are at home so they'll fancy their chances of being able to do so. However Munster are only one point behind and will come to the Aviva stadium next week with several points to prove. Before that though, Leinster welcome bottom team Zebre.

After losing all their game last season, Zebre Coach Andrea Cavinato has managed to get three wins for his team this term but it's still been a struggle for them. That said, at least they seem to be trying in every game which is more than can be said for their compatriots Treviso who seemed to raise the white flag a few months ago judging by their recent results. Cavinato is able to welcome back five members of the Italian squad into this team for tomorrow night's match.

Skipper Marco Bortolami, George Biagi and Tomasso Iannone all start and Davide Giazzon and Guglielmo Palazzani are on the bench. They have quality foreign players in Brendon Leonard and Andries Van Schalkwyk and former Munster prop David Ryan starts at tighthead for them. Giovanbattista Venditti and Kameli Ratuvou make up a big and dangerous midfield pairing.

Leinster are able to welcome back five members of the Ireland squad that beat France in a team that shows seven changes from the side that played Glasgow three weeks ago. In the backs there are only two changes with Isaac Boss (somewhat remarkably starting his first Leinster game since Christmas) coming in instead of Eoin Reddan, who's on the bench. The only other change is the return of Luke Fitzgerald who'll be desperately hoping for an injury-free run from now until the end of the season.

There are more changes in the pack though and with Cian Healy and Mike Ross rested, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath nursing injuries and Martin Moore left on the bench, we still have a useful looking front row in Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss and Tadhg Furlong. Academy prop Furlong makes his first start for Leinster at the RDS after impressing massively in his last start away to Cardiff. The second row is unchanged in skipper Leo Cullen and Mike McCarthy, but fit-again Kevin McLaughlin and Dominic Ryan come into the backrow alongside Jordi Murphy.

With Munster looking pretty certain to get five points at home to Treviso on Saturday night, Leinster will most likely need the same total tomorrow evening and realistically they should get it handily enough.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Teams Zane Kirchner 15 David Odiete
Darragh Fanning 14 Giulio Toniolatti
Fergus McFadden 13 Giovanbattista Venditti
Noel Reid 12 Kameli Ratuvou
Luke Fitzgerald
11 Dion Berryman
Ian Madigan 10 Tommaso Iannone
Isaac Boss 9 Brendon Leonard

Michael Bent 1 Salvatore Perugini
Richardt Strauss 2 Tommaso D'apice
Tadhg Furlong 3 David Ryan
Leo Cullen (C) 4 George Biagi
Mike McCarthy
5 Marco Bortolami (C)
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Filippo Ferrarini
Dominic Ryan 7 Andries Van Schalkwyk
Jordi Murphy
8 Samuela Vunisa

Replacements Aaron Dundon 16 Davide Giazzon
Jack O'Connell 17 Andrea De Marchi
Martin Moore 18 Dario Chistolini
Tom Denton 19 Michael Van Vuren
Shane Jennings
Guglielmo Palazzani
Eoin Reddan
21 Alberto Chillon
Jimmy Gopperth 22 Emiliano Caffini
Brendan Macken 23 Filippo Cristiano

Not Considered
due to Injury
Sean O'Brien,
Andrew Goodman,
Sean Cronin,
Jack McGrath

Mauro Bergamasco,
Paolo Buso,
Nicola Cattina,
Andrea Manici,
Matteo Pratichetti,
Roberto Quartaroli,
Luca Redolfini,
Ruggero Trevisan
Officials Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR),
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, Andy Brace (both IRFU),
TMO: Kevin Beggs (IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-03-20