A chilly night in a half empty RDS Arena saw a largely sloppy Leinster side eventually beat basement boys Zebre 29-8.
The talk at the beginning of the week was of redemption and refocusing the minds after a shock home defeat to Newport Gwent Dragons in the last round but the reality was very different.
Zebre shipped eight tries the week before against league leaders Glasgow but Leinster never looked like getting close to that tally. Handling errors and un-sustained pressure meant four tries was the maximum Leinster could manage.
The away team lost veteran fly half Luciano Orquera after two minutes but the loss didn’t seem to dampen their spirits. Edoarado Padovani was his replacement.
Jimmy Gopperth was granted the first opportunity of the game after Leinster dominance in the scrum told. His penalty attempt soared wide of the posts.
Leinster were sloppy in the opening exchanges as Zebre enjoyed decent spells of possession. Ben Teo’o offered himself and was consistently able to get over the gain line.
Jacopo Sarto was carrying strongly for the visitors. Leinster finally showed some innovation on the fifteenth minute when a midfield scrum resulted in a perfectly weighted cross-field kick clutched from the air with one hand by Fergus McFadden. As was the story with most of the first half, the final ball was lacking as Leinster failed to capitalize.
It was Zebre who would finally cross for the opening score. A poor clearing kick by McFadden straight down the middle allowed Zebre to switch the play out wide and some lovely hands meant Hendrik Daniller crossed the Leinster line. Substitute Padovani failed to add the extra two.
Leinster consistently broke the Zebre gainline, with Jack Conan and Gordon D’Arcy in particular offering go forward ball.
On the twenty-sixth minute another attacking scrum allowed Luke Fitzgerald to receive the ball on a wrap around move and throw a beautiful pass to McFadden. Lovely phase play brought Leinster right to the try line but Zebre infringed to give away the penalty. Leinster smelt blood in the air and went for the five-metre lineout. The attacking play would eventually lead to Shane Jennings breaking down the blind from the back of a maul to feed Conan from the ground for the number eight to cross the line. A knock-on from the back of the maul however was the call from the TMO as Nigel Owens disallowed the try.
Zebre marched into the Leinster half and a penalty won at the breakdown by Samuela Vunisa deep in the Leinster half gave Mirco Bergamasco a chance to extend the lead. The experienced centre took over the kicking duties from Padovani who was receiving treatment for suspected concussion. Bergamasco added the three to make it 8-3 to the visitors at the break
The addition of Irish internationals Sean Cronin and Cian Healy early in the second half buoyed the Leinster crowd and their impact on the side was immediate. Jimmy Gopperth fielded a poor clearing kick from Brendon Leonard and fed Teo’o out wide. The Kiwi linked with Fitzgerald in a scissor move as the winger skated right to the Zebre line. Leinster were patient and the ball eventually came to Dominic Ryan who got over for the score. Gopperth converted from close range. 10-8
Cronin carried well as Leinster camped on the Zebre line. A comical hack away by Mauro Bergamsaco over his own dead ball line gave Leinster a five-metre scrum. Owens awarded another scrum penalty and Leinster packed down again. The ball eventually came out the backs as Gopperth stepped inside off his left to dot down for an easy score. He duly added the conversion to make it 17-8.
Luke Fitzgerald was Leinster’s brightest spark throughout but the second half stuttered along as substitutes and unforced errors stifled proceedings.
A five-metre lineout on the seventy-third minute gave Leinster the platform they needed to bag their third try. Sustained pressure on the Zebre line eventually told as Gopperth swept the ball out to Fitzgerald who crossed for a well deserved try in the corner. The unsuccessful conversion put the score at 22-8.
Leinster hunted down the bonus point try right to the death. Ferocious fends from Ben Teo’o and Donminic Ryan as well as silky feet from Man of the Match Fitzgerald created monumental pressure on the Zebre defense. They battered the away side into submission as Cronin was eventually the man to cross the white line and give Leinster all five points in an unimpressive 29-8 victory.
Hugh Foyle live from the RDS
15 Z Kirchner 14 F McFadden 13 B Teo’o 12 G D’Arcy 11 L Fitzgerald 10 J Gopperth 9 E Reddan 1 M Bent 2 A Dundon 3 M Moore 4 M McCarthy 5 K Douglas 6 D Ryan 7 S Jennings (c) 8 J Conan
16 S Cronin 17 C Healy 18 T Furlong 19 R Moloney 20 D Leavy 21 I Boss 22 C Marsh 23 D Kearney
15 Hendrik Daniller 14 Dion Berryman 13 Mirco Bergamasco 12 Matteo Pratichetti 11 Michele Visentin 10 Luciano Orquera 9 Brendon Leonard 1 Andrea De Marchi 2 Oliviero Fabiani 3 Luciano Leibson 4 Valerio Bernabo 5 Michele Sutto 6 Jacopo Sarto 7 Mauro Bergamasco (c) 8 Samuela Vunisa
16 Lorenzo Giovanchelli 17 Laert Naka 18 Luke Redolfini 19 Giacomo Bernini 20 Ruben Curls 21 Alberto Chillon 22 Edoardo Padovani 23 David Odiete
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)