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Zebre vs Leinster Rugby
Stadio Citta del Tricolore,
Sunday, 21st April 2013, 16:00 (15:00 Irish Time)

Television: Live – Sport Italia, RTE2

Last week Leinster ground out a tough win against Munster in Thomond Park. In truth the performance was quite ordinary again. As with the games against Ulster and Connacht, Leinster were out-scored in terms of tries and had to rely on the immaculate boot of Ian Madigan for most of their points. Admittedly they did show great character to dig out the win in the last ten minutes but Joe Schmidt will know his side will have to find their real form soon if they are to challenge for silverware.

With the Scarlets beating Glasgow on Friday, it means that Leinster are in second place in the table, a point ahead of the Scots and three points behind leaders Ulster. The tension of the race for first place has been largely dissipated by Ulster announcing that they will stage any "home" final in the RDS as the ground-works at Ravenhill won't be completed in time to bring it up to the required capacity. So for Leinster to have a shot at having the two play-off matches at the RDS for the second season running, they now just need to make sure they finish in second place ahead of Glasgow. Indeed, between the Pro12 and the Amlin Challenge Cup, they could potentially play in the RDS for five weeks in a row!

So the pendulum has swung back their way but they can't afford to take anything for granted in the last two regular games. They'll finish their season against those damned Ospreys at the RDS on Friday week, but first up is the potential landmine that is Zebre. Since being formed last summer Zebre still haven't managed to get their first victory and they have only two games left to avoid the stigma of going through their first season winless. In truth they've been close to that precious win a few times and they've endured heartbreakingly close defeats to Ulster and Edinburgh at home and to Connacht and the Ospreys away. In all they've generally been quite competitive, picking up eight losing bonus points, playing some attractive rugby too at times.

Their coach Christian Gajan has named a strong team especially in the pack where their captain Marco Bortolami and back rows Mauro Bergamasco and Josh Sole are the most familiar names. Giovanbattista Venditti, who plays on the wing for Italy, lines up at outside centre alongside fellow international Matteo Pratichetti. Samoan Sinoti Sinoti has bags of pace on the wing and former Waratah Daniel Halangahu is a mercurial presence at out-half. They have a strong bench to call on too in front rows Carlo Festuccia, Andrea De Marchi and Salvatore Perugini and half backs Tito Tebaldi and Luciano Orquera.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt could well be named as Ireland coach in the near future but if he does leave Leinster this summer, he'll want to break his hoodoo with the league after losing two Grand Finals in his time here. With a potential five home games in a row that will all be like cup-ties, he's taken the chance to rest some front-line players this week. Despite that, he's still managed to find a nice mix of youth and experience in a line-up that shows 14 changes including one positional to the team that started against Munster.

Last week's try-scorer Brian O'Driscoll is the only player to retain the same jersey from last week. With Leo Cullen, Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings all rested, he captains the team and will partner Andrew Goodman in midfield. Isa Nacewa, the other survivor from last week, moves to full back so the fit-again Fergus McFadden and Fionn Carr come in on the wings. Jonathan Sexton is finally fit again to start for the first time since January and will be eager to stake a claim for the season run-in before he leaves for Paris. Ian Madigan is given a well-deserved rest after featuring in every game so far this season, so academy out-half Cathal Marsh could make his senior debut off the bench. John Cooney starts his first game since September at scrum-half as Isaac Boss is rested after his recent heavy workload.

It's all change in the pack with Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent forming an all-new front row. Tom Denton makes his fourth start of the season and partners Devin Toner in the boiler room. In the back row, Kevin McLaughlin is promoted from the bench and Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock round out the unit, Ruddock playing at number eight. It's certainly an unusual looking Leinster side but there's still quite a lot to look forward to.

Leinster won 37-7 when the two sides met at the RDS in round 10 and Leinster would love to get the same result again, but a bonus point win might be tough to attain. Indeed, since the Italian teams entered the league three seasons back, Leinster have yet to earn a four-try bonus point on a trip to Italy. This game has been moved to the Stadio Citta del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia to raise funds for victims of the earthquake that hit the region last year and the locals seem to have responded with 20,000 tickets sold. A big crowd will probably inspire the home team so Leinster need to get out of the gates early to deny them any momentum and get the win to keep their season on track.

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams Ruggero Trevisan 15 Isa Nacewa
Leonardo Sarto 14 Fergus McFadden
Giovanbattista Venditti 13 Brian O'Driscoll (C)
Matteo Pratichetti12 Andrew Goodman
Sinoti Sinoti 11 Fionn Carr
Daniel Halangahu 10 Jonathan Sexton
Alberto Chillon 9 John Cooney

Matias Aguero 1 Jack McGrath
Andrea Manici 2 Richardt Strauss
Luciano Leibson 3 Michael Bent
Michael Van Vuren 4 Tom Denton
Marco Bortolami (C)
5 Devin Toner
Filippo Ferrarini 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Mauro Bergamasco 7 Dominic Ryan
Josh Sole 8 Rhys Ruddock

Replacements Carlo Festuccia 16 Aaron Dundon
Andrea De Marchi 17 Jack O'Connell
Salvatore Perugini 18 Jamie Hagan
Emiliano Caffini 19 Quinn Roux
Filippo Cristiano 20 Leo Auva'a
Tito Tebaldi 21 Isaac Boss
Luciano Orquera 22 Cathal Marsh
David Odiete23 Andrew Conway
Not considered
due to injury
Nicola Cattina,
Filippo Cazzola,
Carlo Fazzari,
Gonzalo Garcia,
Quintin Geldenhuys,
Andries Van Schalkwyk
  Edward Byrne,
Jordan Coghlan,
Jack Conan,
Dan Leavy,
Conor Gilsenan,
David Doyle,
Tadgh Furlong,
Josh van der Flier,
Darren Hudson,
Jordi Murphy,
Damien Browne,
Eoin Reddan,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Eoin O'Malley,
Brendan Macken,
Heinke van der Merwe,
Dave Kearney,
Gordon D'Arcy
Match Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU),
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne, Elia Rizzo (both FIR),
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-04-19