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Zebre vs Leinster Rugby
RaboDirect Pro12 Round 13
Stadio XXV Aprile,
Sunday, 9th February 2014, 18:00 (17:00 Irish Time)

Television: Live - RTE.ie (Streaming), Mediaset

And we're back!

Leinster return to action in Italy this Sunday, after three weeks off.  As with their last visit to Italy in November, this game will be massively overshadowed by international action.  That time Leinster were in Treviso quietly winning while Ireland lost heart-breakingly to New Zealand.  At least this time the games aren't directly clashing with Ireland playing Wales on Saturday afternoon.

They take on a Zebre team on something of a high after recording their second ever win in the last round of games.  After beating Cardiff away earlier in the season, they beat Italian rivals Treviso 14-12.  They've also recorded a draw away to the Scarlets this season as well as winning four losing bonus points.  They're still second from bottom in the table but it's still an improvement on last season when they didn't win a single game.

Their performance in the last round of the Heineken Cup also deserves a mention.  Toulouse were expected to roll up and get a bonus point with ease but instead Zebre held them to just one try in a massive defensive performance.  Toulouse only got their try when Zebre were temporarily down to 13 men, which further illustrates how well they put it up to the European aristocrats.  Certainly Munster should buy them a few pints the next time they meet as the result effectively got Munster a home quarter-final.

With nine of their players in the international squad to face France, Zebre have named a fairly unfamiliar team but there are some names to look out for.  Former All Black Brendon Leonard is a classy scrum-half and Fijian centre Kameli Ratuvou was always a dangerous player in his time at Saracens.  In the pack South African backrow Andries Van Schalkwyk is a real handful and they are captained by loosehead prop Matias Aguero.

Leinster are of course missing the 13 players who've been named in the match-day Ireland squad and a few more due to injury.   Their pack has been bolstered by the return of Mike McCarthy and Jordi Murphy from international duty.  They return to the back-five of the pack alongside the massively experienced trio of Leo Cullen, Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings.  However with Leinster providing five of the six front rows to the international squad on Saturday the resources in this area are pretty stretched.

So academy prop Tadhg Furlong from Wexford is given his first start at tighthead.  Martin Moore has obviously made huge strides this season in the same position, but Furlong was another star at Ireland under-20s level and many are tipping him to make a similarly big impact.  Michael Bent starts again at loosehead with Aaron Dundon at hooker.  Edward Byrne is on the bench as the nominal tighthead replacement jersey, but he mainly plays loosehead so Bent will more than likely switch across in the event of Byrne, who's a terrific ball carrier, coming on.

In the backs there is another full debut for an academy player in left winger Sam Coghlan-Murray, who finally gets to make his Leinster senior debut after being left unused on the bench a couple of times.  It's fitting reward for a player who's worked hard to overcome the illness which set him back after he first joined the academy.  He makes up the back three with Zane Kirchner and Darragh Fanning.  Brendan Macken and Noel Reid are the centres and they have been building up a nice understanding the last few times they played together.  Jimmy Gopperth and John Cooney are the half

In the circumstances it's a pretty strong Leinster side and hopefully their experience in key positions will give them the edge they need to get another away win in Italy.

Team Lineups


Leinster Rugby
Teams Ruggero Trevisan
15 Zane Kirchner
Giulio Toniolatti
14 Darragh Fanning
Roberto Quartaroli
13 Brendan Macken
Kameli Ratuvou
12 Noel Reid
David Odiete
11 Sam Coghlan-Murray
Kelly Haimona
10 Jimmy Gopperth
Brendon Leonard
9 John Cooney

Matias Aguero (C)
1 Michael Bent
Tommaso D'apice 2 Aaron Dundon
Dario Chistolini 3 Tadhg Furlong
Emiliano Caffini
4 Leo Cullen (C)
George Biagi
5 Mike McCarthy
Filippo Ferrarini6 Kevin McLaughlin
Andries Van Schalkwyk
7 Shane Jennings
Samuela Vunisa
8 Jordi Murphy

Replacements Lorenzo Giovanchelli
16 James Tracy
Andrea De Marchi
17 Jack O'Connell
David Ryan
18 Edward Byrne
Michael Van Vuren
19 Tom Denton
Giacomo Bernini
Dominic Ryan
Alberto Chillon
21 Luke McGrath
Giulio Bisgeni 22 Ian Madigan
Filippo Cristiano 23 Darren Hudson

Not Considered
due to Injury
Paolo Buso,
Nicola Cattina,
Filippo Cazzola,
Andrea Manici,
Salvatore Perugini,
Matteo Pratichetti,
Giovanbattista Venditti

Sean O'Brien,
Conor Gilsenan,
Andrew Goodman,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Eoin Reddan
Officials Referee: Neil Hennessy (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Filippo Bertelli, Frecesco Russo (both FIR),
Citing Commissioner: Achille Reali (FIR),
TMO: Carlo Damasco (FIR)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-02-19