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Leinster Rugby vs Zebre
Guinness Pro12 Round 14
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Friday, 12th February 2016, 19:30

Television: Sorry, no live TV coverage

Leinster's run of seven straight league wins came to an end a fortnight ago against the Dragons. It was well publicised that Leinster were up against it given the amount of players that were missing due to injury and international commitments. The Dragons deserved their win and could have been out of sight at half time but Leinster will regret that when they had a lengthy spell of pressure in the second half, they couldn't turn it into scores. A combination of awful discipline and naivety meant they left without even a losing bonus point and that will grate with Leo Cullen. It's meant Leinster have slipped down to fourth place in the table, although they still have a game in hand.

During the Six Nations period, the Pro12 takes something of a back seat in terms of profile. However it is actually a crucial time for teams with aspirations of finishing in the top four. In the two years of Matt O'Connor's reign the differences were striking. In 2014, they earned 19 points from a possible 20 in the four games and they topped the table. Last year they earned just 8 points from a possible 20 and they didn't even make the top four. This season it's actually a five game run as the rescheduled Glasgow game is also fitted in on the same weekend as the finale of the Six Nations.

In the other four fixtures Leinster face Zebre twice, Cardiff and the Ospreys. Leinster fans might look at the two Zebre matches as handy numbers but Zebre have actually proved much tougher opponents this season. They've four wins to their name having beaten Edinburgh, Cardiff and Treviso twice. They also gave Munster quite a scare in their last game out, only losing 16-12 in the end.

As they're missing twelve internationals to the Italian squad they've had to bring in two young permit players fly-half Maicol Azzolini and winger Abou Souare. Sadly they haven't opted to bring in Viadana fly-half Ian McKinley as cover like they did during the World Cup. The former Leinster player would have received a warm welcome at the RDS now that he's able to play in Ireland after the IRFU joined the goggles trial. Hopefully we'll see him back at another time. Azzolini starts at ten and he's partnered by experienced former Wallaby scrum-half Luke Burgess. There's more experience in the shape of skipper Marco Bortolami in the second row and former All Black and Connacht player Mils Muliaina on the bench. However it's fair to say it's a fairly callow Zebre side overall.

Leo Cullen has made five changes to the team that started against the Dragons. International props Cian Healy and Mike Ross come in to start at prop in a bid to regain fitness for the England match in a fortnight. Josh van der Flier is also released from international duty to start at openside in the only other change to the pack. In the backs Isaac Boss comes in for Luke McGrath at scrum-half and Isa Nacewa is fit to return to captain the team from the left wing. Adam Byrne and Garry Ringrose both start again and with a dry, calm night forecast, they'll hopefully get more chance to show their attacking skills than they did in a soaked Rodney Parade.

Zebre could be trickier than normal but you'll still expect Leinster to win comfortably enough given the respective strength of the teams.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Zebre
Teams Zane Kirchner
15 Ulrich Beyers
Adam Byrne
14 Dion Berryman
Garry Ringrose 13 Tommaso Boni
Ben Te'o 12 Matteo Pratichetti
Isa Nacewa (C) 11 Kayle Van Zyl
Cathal Marsh
10 Maicol Azzolini
Isaac Boss
9 Luke Burgess

Cian Healy
1 Bruno Postiglioni
James Tracy 2 Oliviero Fabiani
Mike Ross
3 Guillermo Roan
Ross Molony
4 Gideon Koegelenberg
Hayden Triggs
5 Marco Bortolami (C)
Dominic Ryan
6 Emiliano Caffini
Josh van der Flier
7 Johan Meyer
Jordi Murphy 8 Jean Cook

Replacements Sean Cronin
16 Emiliano Coria
Peter Dooley
17 Andrea De Marchi
Michael Bent
18 Pietro Ceccarelli
Tom Denton
19 Federico Ruzza
Dan Leavy
20
Filippo Cristiano
Luke McGrath
21 Giulio Toniolatti
Noel Reid
22 Mils Muliaina
Cian Kelleher
23 Abou Souare

Not Considered
due to Injury
Jack Conan,
Edward Byrne,
Mick Kearney,
Tom Daly,
Tom Farrell,
Marty Moore,
Colm O'Shea,
Royce Burke-Flynn,
Gavin Thornbury,
Ross Byrne,
Ryan O'Loughlin


Officials Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 17th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Mark Connolly (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-02-11

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