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Leinster cruise clear at the top

MATCH REPORT: United Rugby Championship leaders Leinster continued their relentless play-off push by beating Zebre 31-7 in Parma.

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Leinster will go into next week’s Dublin clash against fellow title challengers the Bulls with a four-point advantage over the second-placed South African side.

And it promises to be a heavyweight encounter, with many of Leinster’s sizeable Ireland international contingent potentially returning following their Six Nations success.

First-half tries by wings Rob Russell and Andrew Osborne sent Leinster on their way to a 10th win from 12 URC starts this season.

Scrumhalf Luke McGrath and captain Scott Penny then added touchdowns during the third quarter to secure a bonus point, while Russell crossed for his second try near the end and Ross Byrne kicked three conversions.

Zebre claimed a well-worked try from fullback Jacopo Trulla that Geronimo Prisciantelli converted, but despite plenty of hard graft, they had no real answer to Leinster’s attacking flair.

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Leinster were off and running after just four minutes when Byrne’s inside ball to Russell saw the wing accelerate clear of Zebre’s defenders and claim a fine 45-metre solo score.

Byrne added the conversion and a passive Zebre defence was almost unlocked again eight minutes later when Leinster full-back Ciaran Frawley attacked in space, but he was hauled down five metres out.

Leinster had centre Liam Turner yellow-carded following head-on-head contact with Zebre fly-half Prisciantelli, and the home side rapidly drew level.

Prisciantelli was the architect, kicking with pinpoint accuracy to find wing Scott Gregory, and his pass sent Italy international Trulla sprinting over for a try that Prisciantelli converted.

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It had been a testing spell for Leinster, but they went back in front nine minutes before half-time when Osborne regathered his own superbly-weighted kick inside Zebre’s 22 and finished impressively.

Byrne’s conversion made it 14-7, and Zebre ended the first half a player down after flank Iacopo Bianchi received a yellow card after an off-the-ball tackle on Leinster’s Will Connors.

McGrath claimed Leinster’s third try early in the second period, and Penny followed him over Zebre’s line five minutes later after a Turner break shredded Zebre’s defence, before Russell added his second late on.

Player of the Match

Leinster scrumhalf Luke McGrath was a livewire presence for his team in Parma, keeping the tempo on their game and posing plenty of individual attacking threats. One thrilling touchline break almost produced a try, before he claimed a richly-deserved touchdown after an assist from number eight Max Deegan.

Play of the match

Leinster ran in five tries, but none better than the one scored by 20-year-old wing Andrew Osborne on debut. There appeared to be nothing on when he received the ball just outside Zebre’s 22, but his superbly-weighted kick was followed by an equally-impressive finish at pace as the Irish side took charge.

The scorers

For Zebre
Try: Trulla
Con: Prisciantelli

For Leinster
Tries: Russel 2, Osborne, McGrath, Penny
Cons: R Byrne 3

Yellow cards: Liam Turner (Leinster, 21), Iocopo Bianchi (Zebre, 33)

Teams

Zebre: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Scott Gregory, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Davide Ruggeri, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Muhamed Hasa.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, 17 Luca Rizzoli, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Josh Kaifa, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Damiano Mazza, 23 Pierre Bruno.

Leinster: 15 Ciarán Frawley, 14 Rob Russell, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Jamie Osborne, 11 Andrew Osborne, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Max Deegan, 7 Scott Penny (captain), 6 Will Connors, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 2 Lee Barron, 1 Ed Byrne.
Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Brian Deeny, 20 Diarmuid Mangan, 21 Fintan Gunne, 22 Sam Prendergast, 23 Henry McErlean.

Referee: Morné Ferreira (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Dante D’Elia (Italy)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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