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Zebre vs Leinster Rugby
Stadio XXV Aprile,
Saturday, 11th October 2014, 16:00 (15:00 Irish Time)

Television: Twitter Time!

You reap what you sow!

Leinster's growth into one of the powerhouses of European rugby was built on many things, but one of the key factors was performance standards. There was a certain standard of performance expected under Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt and demanded by leading players like Leo Cullen, Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Sexton. If the performance wasn't up to scratch, there was hell to pay regardless of whether the team had won or not.

Unfortunately those standards have slipped over this season and the last. Too often we've watched substandard Leinster performances at home and abroad but they've been glossed over by focusing only on the result. While Matt O'Connor is to blame for some of this, he's not the only one. The players, the administrators and some of the fans have all been complicit in it, far too happy to live in denial and hide been trite soundbites like "a win is a win".

The sad truth behind last week's comprehensive hammering at home to Munster was that it wasn't a sub-par performance. It was, in fact, a par performance, the usual poor standard we've come to expect. This time, however, they didn't get away with it because this time they weren't facing a poor quality Italian team or a Welsh team not trying a leg or poor, sad old Edinburgh.

This time, as in the opening day against Glasgow, they faced a team that was simply more up for the battle physically. Munster didn't even bring the sophistication of Glasgow's offloading game plan. They turned back the clock to 2008 with a simple but very effective game plan of direct running from the pack. Some might suspect that they beamed the referee in from 2008 as well such was his benevolent attitude to their sealing off the ball by going off their feet. But moaning about the ref is a cop-out as smart Leinster teams always play to what the ref will allow and Leinster didn't react quickly enough to what Munster were doing to them, especially at the breakdown.

Leinster simply weren't good enough and haven't been for a while, the odd good performance notwithstanding. Leinster fans will hope the humiliation at the Aviva will act as a wake-up call for everyone in the organisation. Standards need to improve and that begins with demanding more from themselves and not being happy to just do enough and grind out jammy wins.

Leinster would love a game to lift their spirits to begin to work their way back up from seventh in the league, but if we're honest Zebre away isn't it. They can't take the game too lightly though and they only have to look to Ulster who were beaten there two weeks ago. Zebre followed that up last week by nearly shocking league leaders Ospreys who had to come from behind to win by only a single point.

Zebre now find themselves in the unusual position of now being the dominant Italian team after the Treviso squad was effectively ripped apart by chronic mismanagement. Zebre are missing star names like Brendon Leonard, Andries Van Schalkwyk and Giovanbattista Venditti to injury but they've still named a strong side featuring Italian internationals in Leonardo Sarto, Tommaso Iannone and Gonzalo Garcia in the backs and Mauro Bergamasco and Marco Bortolami in the pack.

There is finally some good news for Leinster on the injury front as Richardt Strauss, Noel Reid, Zane Kirchner, Jack McGrath and Marty Moore all return from various injuries to be named in the starting line-up. McGrath, Strauss and Moore come in to form a whole new front row and Kane Douglas makes his second Leinster start in the second row alongside Mike McCarthy, who along with Rhys Ruddock, are the only two players to retain their spots in the pack from the last day. Jack Conan comes in to make his second start at number eight and openside flanker Josh van der Flier makes his first senior appearance after impressing in the A team last week.

It's all change in the backline too with only left wing Darragh Fanning retaining the same jersey as the last day. Rob Kearney starts this week at full back and will captain the team for the first time. Zane Kirchner makes a welcome return on the right wing to complete the back three. Noel Reid is fit to come back in at number twelve which means Gordon D'Arcy moves back to outside centre. This means that Ian Madigan gets his first run out at out-half this season in place of the struggling Jimmy Gopperth. Isaac Boss makes his first start since the Scarlets game.

With Europe starting next Sunday week with the visit of Wasps, Leinster need to get their act together quickly. Leinster should get a win anyway, but hopefully they'll also produce a performance this week too.

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams David Odiete 15 Rob Kearney (C)
Giulio Toniolatti 14 Zane Kirchner
Tommaso Iannone 13 Gordon D'Arcy
Gonzalo Garcia 12 Noel Reid
Leonardo Sarto 11 Darragh Fanning
Edoardo Padovani 10 Ian Madigan
Guglielmo Palazzani 9 Isaac Boss

Matias Aguero 1 Jack McGrath
Andrea Manici 2 Richardt Strauss
Dario Chistolini 3 Martin Moore
Quintin Geldenhuys 4 Mike McCarthy
Marco Bortolami (C) 5 Kane Douglas
Mauro Bergamasco6 Rhys Ruddock
Filippo Cristiano 7 Josh van der Flier
Samuela Vunisa8 Jack Conan

Replacements Oliviero Fabiani 16 Bryan Byrne
Andrea Lovotti 17 Ed Byrne
Luciano Leibson 18 Tadhg Furlong
Andries Ferreira 19 Devin Toner
Valerio Bernabo 20
Jamie Heaslip
Luciano Orquera 21 Luke McGrath
Kelly Haimona 22 Jimmy Gopperth
George Biagi 23 Mick McGrath

Not Considered
due to Injury
Giulio Bisegni,
Tommaso D'Apice,
Filippo Ferrarini,
Brendon Leonard,
Andries Van Schalkwyk,
Giovanbattista Venditti,
Michele Visentin

Luke Fitzgerald,
Aaron Dundon,
Jordi Murphy,
Dave Kearney,
Dan Leavy,
Shane Jennings,
Sean O'Brien,
Cian Healy,
Fergus McFadden
Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU, 63rd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini, Francesco Russo (both FIR),
Citing Commissioner: Achille Reali (FIR),
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-10-10