Leinster cruises past Zebre
URC MATCH REPORT: Leinster put Zebre away in the second half to claim a 43-7 bonus-point win on Saturday.
Adam Byrne marked his first appearance since December 2019 with two tries, although it was only 15-0 at half-time as Leinster – back at the RDS for the first time this season – struggled to turn their 70 per cent share of possession into points.
Unconverted efforts from Scott Penny and Jordan Larmour had started the scoring, but Zebre defended stoutly, with Renato Giammarioli making a dozen tackles.
However, with Johnny Sexton lifting the performance level off the bench, Leo Cullen’s men cruised home with further tries from Ed Byrne, Sean Cronin, Adam Byrne and replacement Ronan Kelleher.
A slick 66th-minute breakaway try from Pierre Bruno was the only score for Zebre, who had fly-half Antonio Rizzi sin-binned for lifting above the horizontal in a tackle.
Apart from Andrea Zambonin leading Zebre’s poaching of two line-outs, it was all Leinster early on. Flanker Penny drove over inside the opening two minutes.
Larmour then twisted his way over past two defenders in the 12th minute, grounding the ball despite Nicolò Casilio’s best efforts.
Leinster number 10 Harry Byrne had an off day with the boot and went off injured in the 22nd minute, bringing Sexton into the fray.
Rizzi’s penalty from far out fell short, before a timely third try followed at the other end. Good hands from Ed Byrne and Sexton released fit-again winger Byrne to go over in the right corner.
Leinster began the second half with prop Byrne’s bonus-point try, a powerful finish on the back of a quick tap. Sexton converted to make it 22-0.
Soon it was one-way traffic, Cronin squeezing over by the left corner flag before Sexton – dusting himself off after Rizzi’s yellow-card tackle – kicked wide for fit-again winger Byrne to score again.
Kelleher barged over from a well-executed maul past the hour mark, with Sexton taking his kicking haul to eight points.
Zebre rallied and their best moment was Bruno’s dummy and acceleration to get past Rob Russell for a 40-metre run-in. The consolation try was converted by replacement Paolo Pescetto.
Player of the match
Dan Leavy and Zebre back rower Giammarioli stood out in the first half, showing their physicality on both sides of the ball.
However, Leinster’s club captain Sexton had a key influence for the final hour. The URC Player of the Match got his side back on track after a disappointing collective display at the Dragons last Sunday.
Play of the match
Leinster had some decent scores, particularly Adam Byrne’s two which saw Sexton provide both assists.
Zebre were workmanlike throughout and got their moment to shine when winger Bruno was fed turnover ball and took off. He found a gap between Russell and Jamie Osborne and burned through to score to the right of the posts.
Tries: Penny, Larmour, A Byrne 2, E Byrne, Cronin, Kelleher
Cons: Sexton 4
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Jamie Osborne, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Jordan Larmour, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath (captain), 8 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Scott Penny, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Ryan Baird, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Seán Cronin, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Cian Healy, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Max Deegan, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Rob Russell.
Zebre: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Erich Cronjé, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Antonio Rizzi, 9 Nicolò Casilio, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Luca Andreani, 6 Iacopo Bianchi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Cristian Stoian, 3 Ion Neculai, 2 Oliviero Fabiani (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 David Sisi, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Boni, 23 Paolo Pescetto.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland),
TMO: Neil Paterson (Scotland)