Leinster look to a home semi-final

Zebre form this season has been poor even playing in their home patch in Italy

Jonathan Sexton: returns to the Leinster team for the first time since January. Photograph:  Donall Farmer/Inpho

Jonathan Sexton: returns to the Leinster team for the first time since January. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho


With not a win in 20 outings Zebre’s role as the league’s whipping boys should stay intact. Leinster need the points for a cherished home semi-final and travel with the mindset of bringing home extras.

While Joe Schmidt has chosen to rest a few names, a couple more return, Brian O’Driscoll as captain and Jonny Sexton at outhalf in his first game for Leinster since their win over the Exeter Chiefs in January.

Openside Dominic Ryan observed earlier in the week that Zebre will, if nothing else, provide the forwards with some rough and tumble with their pack-dominated game before the arrival of Biarritz next week.

But the real danger to Schmidt is the Leinster team itself, with the assumption, naturally, that victory is assured.

O’Driscoll partners Andrew Goodman at centre, with Fergus McFadden on the right wing and Fionn Carr and Isa Nacewa completing the back three. John Cooney steps up for scrumhalf.

It’s an interesting backrow with Kevin McLaughlin alongside number eight Rhys Ruddock and openside Ryan. Jack McGrath will make his 33rd appearance in a frontrow which also features Richardt Strauss and Michael Bent.

Leinster won 37-7 when they met in Dublin in December and remain unbeaten on the road in 2013. While Zebre haven’t won, a few of their recent defeats have been squeaky enough for the winners. They lost 7-9 to Edinburgh a few weeks ago and more recently 28-13 to Cardiff.

With Italy’s Marco Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco and Kiwi Josh Sole in the pack Zebre have some quality there but consistency has been a problem, as well as a lack of genuine backline threat.

Leinster are technically better in just about all areas.
ZEBRE : R Trevisan; L Sarto, G Venditti, M Pratichetti, S Sinoti; D Halangahu, A Chillon; M Aguero, A Manici, L Leibson, M van Vuren, M Bortolami, F Ferrarini, M Bergamasco, J Sole. Replacements : C Festuccia, A De Marchi, S Purugini, E Caffini, F Cristiano, T Tebaldi, L Orquera, D Odiete.
LEINSTER : I Nacewa; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, A Goodman, F Carr; J Sexton, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Strauss, M Bent, T Denton, D Toner, K McLoughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock. Replacements: A Dundon, J O’Connell, J Hagan, Q Roux, L Auva’a, I Boss, C Marsh, A Conway.
Referee : Neil Paterson (SRU)
Verdict : Leinster