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Leinster Rugby vs Zebre
Guinness Pro12 Round 13
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 6th January 2017, 19:35

Television: TG4

It's fair to say it wasn't a particularly satisfying Christmas for Leinster.

After they got nothing in the Munster match, they would have expected five points on New Year's Eve against a fairly weak Ulster team. For 42 minutes all was going to plan as Leinster raced into a 22-0 lead. True, they weren't playing that great and they were fortunate that Tommy Bowe didn't apply his hand resin before the match, but surely the bonus point was only a matter of time? But it never happened and more worrying, never really looked like happening either. Instead Ulster dominated possession for the rest of the match and held Leinster scoreless.

Leinster, as in the Munster match, didn't help themselves with some truly woeful and brainless kicking that kept gifting Ulster back possession. It's crept into their game recently and needs to stamped out. Overall the failure to score a bonus point left both players and fans feeling frustrated but perhaps it's no bad thing to take a little frustration into the next few weeks, which will define Leinster's season. Playing three Fridays in a row, next week Leinster take on Montpellier to win their group and qualify for the quarter-finals. After last year's debacle in Europe, just qualifying for the knock-out stages has become a big thing again and Montpellier will be no pushovers. It will effectively be win or bust for them so they'll come out all guns blazing. So Leinster are going to need their game in the right place for the challenge.

First though, they take on bottom of the table Zebre, who have one win from ten games this season (two have been postponed due to poor weather). It's been a tough graft of a season so far and it's unlikely to get much better tomorrow night. Their only win of the season came away to Edinburgh but this was avenged by the Scots on New Year's Eve.

Zebre have named a team with seven changes from the Edinburgh match, four in the backs and three in the pack. Former All Blacks Sevens captain Kurt Baker switches to fullback from the wing with Italian international Edoardo Padovani switching to fly half from fullback. This means there's a whole new three-quarter line of Mattia Bellini, Matteo Pratichetti, Tommaso Castello and Lloyd Greeff. In the pack, Federico Ruzza comes in to start at flanker, while Gideon Koegelenberg and Pietro Ceccarelli come into the tight five.

For Leinster the big news is Johnny Sexton is finally back fit to play and he captains the team from out-half in the absence of Isa Nacewa. Isa gets a well deserved rest after a busy four weeks and his place at full back is taken by Zane Kirchner. Robbie Henshaw is the final change to the backline coming in to partner Garry Ringrose in the centre. The two young wingers Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin will hope to continue their fine recent try-scoring form on the wings.

In the pack Cian Healy and James Tracy come into an otherwise unchanged front five. There are two changes in the backrow with Jack Conan coming in at number eight and Dan Leavy starting at blindside with Sean O'Brien switching across to the open. Leinster have named a very strong bench too and are clearly aiming to keep the majority of the internationals ticking over nicely ahead of next week's big game.

It's hard to see anything but a comfortable win for Leinster tomorrow night with hopefully everyone coming through unscathed.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Zane Kirchner 15 Kurt Baker
Adam Byrne 14 Mattia Bellini
Garry Ringrose 13 Matteo Pratichetti
Robbie Henshaw 12 Tommaso Castello
Rory O'Loughlin 11 Lloyd Greeff
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Edoardo Padovani
Luke McGrath 9 Marcello Violi

Cian Healy 1 Andrea Lovotti
James Tracy 2 Tommaso D'Apice
Michael Bent 3 Pietro Ceccarelli
Devin Toner 4 Gideon Koegelenberg
Hayden Triggs 5 George Biagi (C)
Dan Leavy 6 Derick Minnie
Sean O'Brien 7 Federico Ruzza
Jack Conan 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Carlo Festuccia
Jack McGrath 17 Andrea De Marchi
Tadhg Furlong 18 Guillermo Roan
Rhys Ruddock 19 Joshua Furno
Jamie Heaslip 20
Maxime Mbanda
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Guglielmo Palazzani
Ross Byrne 22 Giovanbattista Venditti
Noel Reid 23 Serafin Bordoli

Not Considered
due to Injury
Jordi Murphy,
James Ryan,
Mike Ross,
Ian Fitzpatrick,
Fergus McFadden,
Cathal Marsh,
Dave Kearney,
Joey Carbery,
Rob Kearney

Faialaga Afamasaga,
Dion Berryman,
Tommaso Boni,
Gabriele Di Giulio,
Andrea Manici,
Johan Meyer,
Jacopo Sarto,
Kayle Van Zyl
Officials Referee: Dan Jones (WRU, 2nd competition game),
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (WRU), Jonny Erskine (IRFU),
TMO: Neil Hennessey (WRU),
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-01-05