Sexton returns in style
FRIDAY PRO12 WRAP: Johnny Sexton marked his long-awaited return to Pro12 action with a perfect record from the tee as Leinster sailed past Zebre on Friday.
In other Friday matches Scarlets returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory over Ulster at Parc Y Scarlets - with an excellent second-half comeback to consolidate their top four position.
* Angus O'Brien delivered a kicking masterclass from the tee as Newport Gwent Dragons put a stop to their three-game losing streak with a dominant display over Benetton Treviso.
We look at all the Friday action!
LEINSTER 70-6 ZEBRE
Johnny Sexton marked his long-awaited return to Pro12 action with a perfect record from the tee as Leinster sailed past Zebre on Friday.
With seven different try scorers, including three for Rory O'Loughlin, Leo Cullen's men sealed the bonus point with just half an hour played, with Sexton - pulling on the Leinster jersey for the first time since the autumn internationals two months ago - contributing 12 points to their tally.
Two first-half penalties from Edoardo Padovani had given the Italians hope in the early stages, but the Irish province proved too strong as they maintained their top three position.
Leinster were the first to get on the scoresheet when Sean O'Brien dotted down after fine work from the centres saw the ball spread wide, Sexton successfully kicking the conversion from the tee.
Zebre pulled a penalty back on 16 minutes through Padovani, but the hosts immediately responded as Hayden Triggs crossed the whitewash before Sexton added the extras.
Padovani added another three points to Zebre's tally to narrow the advantage to eight, but Luke McGrath was quick to restore the hosts' lead with a try, running under the posts following slick play with Zane Kirchner.
Cian Healy's big carry made it 28-6 on the 30-minute mark to secure the bonus point, with Sexton converting both to make it four from four.
And on the stroke of half-time, McGrath broke free from the scrum before putting O'Loughlin through for a converted try to ensure Leinster went into the break 29 points ahead.
The hosts had the first opportunity for points of the second period, when Dan Leavy looked set to cross in the corner after a stunning James Tracy pass, only to be tackled into touch.
But they didn't have long to wait for that first try of the second 40, Garry Ringrose ploughing over the line for his side's sixth try of the evening, Sexton continuing his perfect record from the tee.
O'Loughlin got his second of the game on the 70-minute mark when he crossed from close range, before securing his hat-trick just minutes later after latching on to a sublime Ringrose off-load to score once more, Ross Byrne successfully converting both.
The Italians finished the game with 14 men when Guillermo Roan was shown a yellow card, and their fate was sealed when Ringrose added his second try - and his side's ninth - of the game with the clock ticking down, crossing over following a scrum five metres from the line, Byrne once again adding the two points.
And Jamie Heaslip wrapped up his side's stunning performance with a last-gasp try, converted by Byrne, to seal a 70-6 victory for Leinster for their second win on the bounce.
Tries:O'Brien, Triggs, McGrath, Healy, O'Loughlin 3, Ringrose 2, Heaslip
Cons: Sexton 6, Bryne 4
Yellow card: Guillermo Roan (Zebre, 73)
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Rory O'Loughlin, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Noel Reid.
Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Federico Ruzza, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Giovanbattista Venditti, 23 Serafin Bordoli.
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessey (Wales)
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS 26-8 BENETTON TREVISO
Angus O'Brien delivered a kicking masterclass from the tee as Newport Gwent Dragons put a stop to their three-game losing streak with a dominant display over Benetton Treviso on Friday.
The Dragons came into their tie at Rodney Parade on the back of successive defeats in the Pro12, but turned their fortunes around for only their fourth league victory of the season.
After giving Kingsley Jones' side an early lead from a penalty, O'Brien went on to add 11 further points for the Dragons, with tries for the Welsh outfit coming from Sarel Pretorius and skipper Lewis Evans.
A score from Tito Tebaldi and three points from Tommaso Allan looked to have given the Italians hope early on in the first half, but a sudden increase in tempo from the Dragons put the game to bed.
O'Brien broke the deadlock for the Dragons, kicking them into the lead from the tee after the Italians were penalised in front of the posts.
But Treviso immediately responded when Tebaldi reacted quickest to a Dragons mistake, hacking on and gathering to cross in the corner.
They further extended their lead on 24 minutes when Allan successfully kicked for three points after the Dragons were called up for slowing possession at a ruck, having given away a handful of penalties in the lead up.
It didn't take long, however, for the hosts to regain their advantage, upping the tempo for Pretorius to dot down under the posts after spotting the gap before O'Brien nailed the conversion.
Pretorius was then sin-binned seven minutes later for slamming the ball down following a scrum in the Dragons' 22, before the visitors wasted a glorious opportunity to pull some points back, knocking on after attacking from the scrum.
O'Brien ensured Jones' men would go into the break with a five-point advantage, slotting home a penalty from 40 metres on the stroke of half-time.
The hosts saw their lead further extended ten minutes into the second period, that man again O'Brien - the Dragons' top point scorer - coolly burying a drop goal after struggling to find a way through the Treviso defence.
He then stretched his side's lead to 11 points four minutes later, opting for the posts after the opposition were penalised.
It was the turn of Evans to cross the whitewash next for the Dragons, finding himself on the end of the maul to score, and the hosts put the game out of Treviso's reach when Dorian Jones added the extras.
Cons: O'Brien, Jones
Pens: O'Brien 3
Yellow card: Sarel Pretorius (Newport Gwent Dragons, 35)
Newport Gwent Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Tom Prydie, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Angus O'Brien, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Ollie Griffiths, 6 Lewis Evans (captain), 5 Cory Hill, 4 Nick Crosswell, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Nic Cudd, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Jack Dixon.
Benetton Treviso: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Andrea Pratichetti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi (captain), 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Marco Barbini, 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Matteo Zanusso, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Marco Lazzaroni, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Sean Brickell (Wales)
SCARLETS 16-13 ULSTER
Scarlets returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory over Ulster at Parc Y Scarlets with an excellent second-half comeback to consolidate their top four position.
The hosts were trailing 13-6 at the break due to Jacob Stockdale's try for Ulster with Paddy Jackson adding the conversion and two penalties.
But Ulster were unable to add to their tally in the second half as a penalty try and a third penalty from Dan Jones gave the Scarlets all four points.
Jones, on his first Pro12 start of the season, nearly gave his side the perfect start after three minutes as he charged down a kick by his opposite number Paddy Jackson.
The Scarlet's No.10 hacked the ball towards the tryline but was just beaten to the ball by Jackson who managed to atone for his error and force a knock-on.
Jones did give his side the lead with 11 minutes played though as he scored his first penalty and another successful kick four minutes later made it 6-0 to the home side.
Jackson responded with a penalty of his own on 17 minutes with a 45 metre penalty and the visitors had the lead for the first time soon after.
Stuart McCloskey cut a great line from an Ulster rolling maul to puncture the Scarlets defence and when he offloaded to Jacob Stockdale, the winger was free to run in under the posts for his third try of the season.
Jackson added the extras to give the visitors a 10-6 lead.
The Ulster flyhalf extended their advantage with another well-struck penalty at the end of the first-half to put his side 13-6 up at the break.
In the second half, Jones reduced the deficit with a penalty in the 53rd minute as Ulster were penalised for not releasing the tackler.
Aled Davies was then held up over the try line but Sean Reidy was shown a yellow card for a high tackle in his attempt to stop the replacement and Scarlets were awarded a penalty try.
A successful conversion from Jones put Scarlets 16-13 ahead and it was a narrow lead that they would not relinquish.
Scarlets second row Jake Ball was also sent from the field for ten minutes for a high tackle on 63 minutes but Ulster were forced to settle for a losing bonus point.
Pens: Jones 3
Pens: Jackson 2
Yellow cards: Sean Reidy (Ulster, 60), Jake Ball (Scarlets, 62)
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Lewis Rawlins, 5 Tom Price, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (captain), 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Nicky Thomas, 19 Joshua Macleod, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Aled Thomas, 23 Steff Hughes.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble (captain), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Jonny Simpson, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Pete Browne, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Tommy Bowe.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Elia Rizzo (Italy), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)