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Leinster Rugby vs Zebre
RDS Showgrounds, Dublin,
Saturday, 1st December 2012, 18:00

Television: Live RTE2, Sport Italia

Leinster take on Italian side Zebre for this first time on Saturday evening. Leinster come into the game with a spring in their step after results went well for them last weekend. Their 6-0 win in the driving rain and wind of Glasgow won't live long in the memory in terms of the quality of the performance. But it's rare that any team wins pretty over there and Leinster will have been happy with just the win. With the Ospreys and Munster both losing, Leinster moved up to fourth place in the table. With four of the top six playing each other this weekend, (Munster v Glasgow and Scarlets v Ulster), Leinster are in a good position to further move up the table this weekend. To do that though, they'll need to beat Zebre.

Zebre were formed this summer from the ashes of the Aironi team. That team, which was based in Viadana, went bust towards the middle of last season. The FIR decided against awarding another franchise to private interests and are in full financial control of Zebre. They are based in Parma and recruited most of the Aironi squad that were made jobless in the summer. As in all sporting codes, newly formed sporting clubs take time to find their feet and they've lost their first eleven games.

There's been some hidings but to their credit they've been competitive in more than half their games and have picked up four bonus points. They picked up two of their bonus points in the 27-25 defeat at home to Ulster. They were extremely unlucky in that game as they actually outscored Ulster by four tries to two and lost to a last-minute penalty try which was highly debatable. Last week they lost narrowly at home to Cardiff and picked up another bonus point.

Zebre coach Christian Gajan has opted to rest some of his busiest players and their South African number eight Dries van Schalkwyk, who scored two tries against Ulster, and veteran prop Salvatore Perugini are two of those given a break. They do welcome back internationals Mauro Bergamasco, Quintin Geldenhuys and Carlo Festuccia to the pack. Former Munster prop Dave Ryan starts at tighthead and Nicola Cattina and Josh Sole bring experience to the table too.

The backline is less familiar but experienced international Gonzalo Garcia will captain the team from midfield alongside the powerful Matteo Pratichetti. Tito Tebaldi makes up the half-back combination with Australian Daniel Halangahu and Samoan international Sinoti Sinoti offers pace and power from the wing. It's certainly not their strongest line-up but there's enough ability there to put in a decent effort too.

For Leinster there are ten changes to the team that started last week. Jonathan Sexton, who was masterful against Argentina, and Eoin Reddan are back at half back. The most eye-catching selection is that of Gordon D'Arcy at outside centre with Andrew Goodman retained at inside centre. It's a long time since D'Arcy played in the outside channel, but his defence probably won't be tested out there too much in this game. Andrew Conway and Fergus McFadden come in on the wings with Isa Nacewa, outstanding last week, retained at full back.

In the pack the three times Ireland-capped prop Michael Bent finally gets to make his Leinster debut. Heinke van der Merwe was delighted to add to his solitary Springbok cap over the last few weeks and I'm sure there's been some banter between him and Mike Ross over the late scrum penalties in the international match between the two countries. He takes his place at loosehead prop with Sean Cronin at hooker, as Richardt Strauss is rested after his busy autumn.

The Ireland captain for those games, Jamie Heaslip, is also rested so Sean O'Brien continues at number eight alongside Kevin McLaughlin and Rhys Ruddock, who makes a rare start at open-side. Leo Cullen's leadership in the rain in Glasgow last week was crucial and he partners Damian Browne in the boiler room. The presence of Ross on the bench along with the likes of Cian Healy, Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan mean there's plenty of cavalry to come on if needed.

It's unlikely to be, however, as Leinster should be strong enough to win with something to spare.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Teams Isa Nacewa
15 Ruggero Trevisan
Andrew Conway
14 Leonardo Sarto
Gordon D'Arcy
13 Gonzalo Garcia (C)
Andrew Goodman
12 Matteo Pratichetti
Fergus McFadden 11 Sinoti Sinoti
Jonathan Sexton
10 Daniel Halangahu
Eoin Reddan
9 Tito Tebaldi

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Matias Aguero
Sean Cronin 2 Carlo Festuccia
Michael Bent
3 David Ryan
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Quintin Geldhuys
Damian Browne
5 Josh Sole
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Nicola Cattina
Rhys Ruddock
7 Mauro Bergamasco
Sean O'Brien
8 Filippo Cristiano

Replacements Aaron Dundon
16 Davide Giazzon
Cian Healy
17 Andrea De Marchi
Mike Ross
18 Carlo Fazzari
Tom Denton
19 Emiliano Caffini
Jordi Murphy
20 Nicola Belardo
Isaac Boss
21 Alberto Chillon
Ian Madigan
22 David Odiete
Fionn Carr
23 Paolo Buso
Not considered
due to injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Eoin O'Malley,
Mark Flanagan,
Dominic Ryan,
David Doyle,
Quinn Roux,
Rob Kearney,
Darren Hudson,
Brian O'Driscoll
  Marco Bortolami,
Alberto Benettin,
Alberto Chiesa,
Samuele Pace,
Roberto Quartaroli,
Michael Van Vuren
Match Officials Referee: Andrew McMenenmy,
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gafikin, R Kerr (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Tom McCormack (IRFU),
TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-11-30