Leinster rout Zebre to cement top spot
PRO14 WRAP: Dan Sheehan enjoyed a dream debut, scoring two tries and assisting another, as Leinster made it 22 victories on the spin.
The Irish province produced a scintilating performance to rout their Italian rivals 63-8.
* In the other Friday match Scarlets edge Benetton 10-3 in a scrappy match which saw the visioptr fionish with 14 men – after a red card to Morgan Jones in the 73rd minute.
Leinster 63-8 Zebre
Dan Sheehan enjoyed a dream debut, scoring two tries and assisting another, as Leinster made it 22 Guinness PRO14 victories on the spin with a scintillating 63-8 victory over Zebre.
Heading into Round 3, Leo Cullen’s men were the only side with a perfect ten points from ten and they had a four-try bonus point wrapped up by half-time this week, as Michael Bent, Sheehan, Dave Kearney and Tommy O’Brien all crossed for a 28-3 lead.
Young hooker Sheehan got his second of the night shortly after the break before Josh Murphy, another debutant Ciaran Parker, O’Brien again and Scott Penny dotted down to make it a nine-try triumph.
Zebre’s all-time record against Leinster now reads: played 14, lost 14, and the Italians’ search for a first point of the campaign will see them face Ospreys in Parma in Round 4.
With large parts of their squad on international duty, Zebre made 13 alterations from the defeat to Dragons and Leinster made 14 changes from the starting XV that beat Benetton in Round 2, including handing debuts to Sheehan and centre Liam Turner.
Zebre’s evening got off to the worst possible start as ex-Leinster man Ian Nagle was forced off the field with a suspected head injury less than a minute in before the hosts got the first try on 12 minutes – Bent powering over from close range.
Their second try on 19 minutes was set up by a sumptuous kick from Jimmy O’Brien, which pinned Zebre deep in their own 22, and when Marco Manfredi overthrew the lineout, Sheehan pounced and ran through two tacklers to score.
The deficit was reduced to 14-3 shortly after when Paolo Pescetto slotted a long-range penalty for the visitors but that barely slowed Leinster, whose third try again came from a lineout.
This time it was an attacking set-piece and a training ground move worked to perfection with Murphy soaring high to catch the ball, offloading to the looping Sheehan who fed back inside to Kearney to crash over for a try on his 150th appearance for the province.
Tommy O’Brien then wrapped up the bonus point just before half-time as he picked a great line and collected a perfect inside pass form Luke McGrath to scythe through and score.
Try number five came in the early stages of the second half when Sheehan was in support to barrel over from close range and there was further good news for Leinster as Dan Leavy emerged from the bench to make his first appearance in 19 months, completing an arduous injury return.
Back row forward Murphy stretched out for the sixth try on 55 minutes and debutant Parker got the seventh when he cut a gorgeous line through the Zebre defence.
The visitors finally got some reward on 66 minutes with arguably the try of the night, as Joshua Renton nudged a grubber kick through on halfway, Antonio Rizzi collected, sidestepped a defender and then put a pinpoint kick out to the right wing where Michelangelo Biondelli slid over.
But that only seemed to anger Leinster as O’Brien got his second of the evening after great work and an inside pass from Kearney on the left wing before Penny charged through some tired tackles for try number nine at the death.
Harry Byrne was flawless with boot, slotting all nine conversions from all over the field and that meant the final scoreline read 63-8.
Play of the Day
The positives for Zebre in this game were almost non-existent but they did produce perhaps the best try of the evening.
It was finished by Michelangelo Biondelli and the Italians produced a piece of art the full-back’s more famous namesake would have been proud of.
It was created by a pair of replacements – Joshua Renton and Antonio Rizzi – with the former alertly nudging a grubber kick through from the base of a ruck and the latter showing off his dancing feet to bamboozle a defender before putting a chip out to the right wing.
Biondelli was waiting to collect and held off a covering defender to slide over the try-line for the lone bright spot in Zebre’s evening.
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Player of the Match
As debuts go, Dan Sheehan set a high standard with a brilliant all-round display capped off by two tries and a try assist.
The hooker did a more-than-passable impression of Ronan Kelleher as he barrelled around the park, a constant threat in the loose with his hard running and nifty handling.
That saw him pinch an overthrown lineout for his first try, assist Dave Kearney’s score with a loop around and inside pass from another lineout, then dot down for a second time by burrowing over from close-range.
Tries: Bent, Sheehan 2, Kearney, O’Brien 2, Murphy, Parker, Penny
Cons: Byrne 9
Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Tommy O’Brien, 13 Liam Turner, 12 Ciarán Frawley, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Harry Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 7 Scott Penny, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Peter Dooley
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Michael Milne, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 David Hawkshaw, 23 Dan Leavy
Zebre: 15 Michelangelo Biondelli, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Tommaso Boni (captain), 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Paolo Pescetto, 9 Nicolò Casilio, 8 Jimmy Tuivaiti, 7 Renato Giammarioli, 6 Lorenzo Masselli, 5 Ian Nagle, 4 Mick Kearney, 3 Alexandru Tarus, 2 Marco Manfredi, 1 Paolo Buonfiglio
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Samuele Ortis, 21 Joshua Renton, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Junior Laloifi
Referee: Craig Evans
Assistant referees: Chris Busby, Rob O’Sullivan
TMO: Joy Neville
Benetton 3-10 Scarlets
Scarlets got their season up-and-running with their first win in three visits to Treviso, overcoming Benetton 10-3 in a low-quality affair at Stadio Monigo.
The home side – without 11 players in Italy’s 23 for their weekend Six Nations clash against Ireland – took a slender 3-0 lead into half-time thanks to the boot of Ian Keatley, but couldn’t add further points to their tally despite having chances.
Scarlets were also without 11 regular squad members and struggled to make anything happen throughout the 80 minutes, but Angus O’Brien got them off the mark and played a big part in Paul Asquith’s second-half try.
Morgan Jones was sent off late on for a high tackle, but Scarlets held firm to leave Benetton winless so far this campaign, and without victory at their home ground in any competition since December.
Scarlets made encouraging territory in the game’s opening stages, but despite reducing the hosts to smatterings of possession, Glenn Delaney’s men were unable to force any real openings.
Marc Jones limped off for the visitors on the six-minute mark, but replacement Taylor Davies contributed to an impressive turnover at the scrum as Scarlets successfully quelled the first instance of Benetton pressure.
A scrappy period followed with both sides unable to keep hold of the ball, but Keatley notched the first points of the evening in the 21st minute from the tee to give Benetton the lead.
Liam Williams was a bright spark for the away side, making good ground with a handful of kicks in the opening 25 minutes of the game, before making a darting 50-yard run to put Benetton under the cosh.
But having weathered that storm, Benetton went on the attack, only for Juan Ignacio Brex to be penalised for a trip close to the Scarlets try-line.
Kieran Crowley’s men ended the first 40 minutes pushing for the first try, but they were ultimately restricted to a three-point advantage at the whistle thanks to stern Scarlets defending.
Luca Sperandio and Brex looked to ignite the game early in the second period with searing runs into the Scarlets half, and having initially capitalised on a mistake at a lineout, the Italians enjoyed several phases of possession deep in the visitors’ half.
Keatley missed the chance to double Benetton’s lead in the 50th minute as his kick came back off the upright, but despite their slice of fortune Scarlets couldn’t find a foothold in the match.
Blade Thomson, Steff Evans and Dane Blacker went close to forcing a breakthrough just shy of the hour mark, and O’Brien finally got the Welshmen on the board with his boot to leave everything to play for in the game’s latter stages.
O’Brien narrowly shot wide as he looked to kick Scarlets in front for the first time, but less than ten minutes later he played a huge part in the first try of the night, chasing down his own kick and setting up the chance for Asquith to go over in the 69th minute.
An increase in momentum was then dented when Morgan Jones was sent off for a high tackle on Manuel Zuliani, signalling a tense six minutes for the Llanelli-based side.
Benetton piled on the pressure in the late stages, but a steely defensive effort denied the 2018/19 quarter-finalists a late try, handing the points to Scarlets.
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PLAYER OF THE MATCH
With little to choose between two teams devoid of many of their star players, the match was crying out for an individual to stand out from the crowd and provide the much-needed inspiration.
Fly-half Angus O’Brien did just that. Besides kicking five of Scarlets’ ten points, he spearheaded the only try of the game with an impressive kick-and-chase, which ultimately proved the difference.
PLAY OF THE DAY
In a game staved of many clear-cut chances, it was always likely that a moment of magic would be required to swing the pendulum in the favour of either team.
And so it proved. Benetton were in control of possession until Iliesa Ratuva spilled the ball, and Angus O’Brien kicked and chased, before the ball went through the hands to Paul Asquith to dot down.
Red card: Morgan Jones (Scarlets, 73)
Benetton: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Ratuva Tavuyara, 13 Ignacio Brex, 12 Tommaso Benvenuti, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain), 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Alberto Sgarbi, 6 Federico Ruzza, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Irné Herbst, 3 Filippo Alongi, 2 Hame Faiva, 1 Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16 Tomas Baravalle, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Giovanni Pettinelli, 20 Manuel Zuliani, 21 Luca Petrozzi, 22 Angelo Esposito, 23 Leonardo Sarto
Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Tyler Morgan, 12 Steff Hughes (captain), 11 Steff Evans, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Dane Blacker, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jac Morgan, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Tevita Ratuva, 4 Sione Kalamafoni, 3 Javan Sebastian, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Phil Price
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Morgan Jones, 20 Ed Kennedy, 21 Will Homer, 22 Dan Jones, 23 Paul Asquith
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: Manuel Bottino, Andrea Spadoni
TMO: Alan Falzone