Leinster move to within a point of Connacht after bonus-point win
Dan Leavy goes over late on as Leo Cullen’s side grind out victory in the mud
Leinster scrumhalf Luke McGrath is tackled during the Guinness Pro 12 match at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Photograph: Francesca Soli/Inpho
Zebre 10 Leinster 27
Nonetheless the flanker, who was late into the starting side when Jack Conan was forced out with an ankle injury, set the early tone for Leinster’s four-try bonus-point win over Zebre.
It was a far cry from the eight tries scored when the two sides met recently in the RDS. But the conditions more than the players saw to that, a soft pitch in Stadio Lanfranchi and a greasy ball conspiring against any decent backline handing.
But Leinster were dominant in the mud, rarely stretched by the home side and were able to build up an early two-try lead to ease any possible anxieties.
A try from Luke McGrath after six minutes and another from Dominic Ryan 12 minutes later sent Leinster into a 12-0 lead to pave the way for the bonus point win that pushes them on to 53 points, which puts them in second place behind Connacht.
McGrath’s score was a combination of intelligent opportunism and a sleepy Zebre defence. Nipping over the legs and bodies of a driving maul that fell just short of the line, McGrath shaped to go right with his pass but dived in on the narrow side.
Ryan came from good support work off a break from loosehead prop Peter Dooley, who accurately offloaded in the tackle for Ryan steaming through.
Former Leinster player Ian McKinley kicked a penalty for Zebre on 28 minutes to keep them in touch for at half-time at 12-3 down but by that stage Leinster really should have been home and hosed.
Byrne showed some deft footwork to keep a kicked ball from leaking into touch and then plenty of gas to win the foot race with the Zebre defence for a fine score.
Both sides emptied their benches, but if anything it was Leinster who seemed frustrated as the minutes ticked down. For all their dominance the bonus-point try remained elusive as Zebre pressed in the last 10 minutes.
Their reward was a try under the Leinster posts from lock Quintin Geldenhuys, but finally it came good for the Irish side with Zebre penalised twice for side entries defending their line and a warning from the referee Leighton Hodges.
At the third time of asking Leinster powered over from their lineout, Leavy the man with the ball in his hand and the bonus point secured.
Scoring sequence – 6 mins L McGrath try 0-5; 18 mins D Ryan try, I Nacewa con 0-12; 28 mins I McKinley pen 3-12. Half-time. 46 mins I Nacewa pen 3-15; 52 mins A Byrne try, Nacewa con 3-22; 73 mins Q Geldenhuys try, McKinley con 10-22; 78 mins D Leavy try 10-27.
ZEBRE: M Muliaina; G Toniolatti, T Boni, M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl; I McKinley, F Semenzato; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, G Roan; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami; J Sarto, F Ruzza, J Meyer.
Replacements: A de Marchi for Postiglioni (6 mins); U Beyers for Pratichetti (41 mins); M Azzolini for Boni (48 mins); G Koegelenberg for Bortolami (53 mins); E Caffini for Meyer (55 mins); P Ceccarelli for Roan (55 mins); L Burgess for Semenzato (58 mins); G Morelli for Fabiani (64 mins).
LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; A Byrne, G Ringrose, B Te’o, I Nacewa; C Marsh, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, T Furlong; R Molony, M Kearney; D Ryan, D Leavy, J Murphy.
Replacements: S Cronin for Tracey (46 mins), H Triggs for Kearney (46 mins); N Reid for Ringrose (53 mins); M Bent for Furlong (55 mins); N McCarthy for McGrath (62 mins); J Loughman for Dooley (62 mins); C Kelleher for Byrne (73 mins); P Timmins for Leavy (79 mins).
Referee: L Hodges (WRU).