Leinster survive Zebre stampede to secure bonus-point win
Italian side rally before the break but champions extend their Conference B lead
Dave Kearney break to score in Leinster’s win over Zebre. Photograph: Matteo Ciambelli/Inpho
Zebre 24 Leinster 40
Defending champions Leinster have further consolidated their position at the top of Conference B with a 16 point win over a spirited Zebre side in Italy.
The Irish province have now won all twelve meetings between the sides but, interestingly, this was the first time the Italian outfit had played a game outside of Parma with the game taking place at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella in Viadana.
A brace of tries from Max Deegan in the first and final actions of the game was enough to secure the victory after the home side rallied late in the first half.
Leinster raced into an early 19-point lead and it was Deegan who opened the scoring after the away pack over-powered their opponents for Deegan to score.
Ross Byrne converted before a gap in the Zebre defence was exposed by Conor O’Brien. Fast hands and intricate passing afforded Dave Kearney the opportunity to score, Byrne providing the killer pass before nailing th conversion.
Byrne was causing havoc in the Italian defence and once again he escaped their grasp and vitally held on through the last few metres to score with a sublime assist from Jamison Gibson-Park.
The number 10 easily converted to gain full points before the home team finally made an impact on the scoreboard.
Giovanni Licata was the puppet-master and he turned the key which opened the defence and allowed Francois Brummer in for a try as Carlo Canna converted.
Buoyed by the earlier passage of play, Zebre added another score two minutes later with a fantastic passage of play leaving room for Jamie Elliot to wriggle through the gap and score.
Canna chipped over the conversion before Gabriele Di Giulio made it three tries in seven minutes for the Italians.
Brummer was once again pivotal in the succession of passes leading to Di Giulio’s score as Canna’s drop-goal attempt was charged down by the Leinster defence.
In a half of two halves, it was the Irish men that held a slender two point lead at the break.
Leinster would stop the rot early in the second period with Scott Fardy persistent in his pursuit of a score. He was halted near the line but successfully broke the gain-line thanks to quick thinking from Gibson-Park.
Again Byrne converted and once again their opponents replied through Francois Brummer, the neat passing of the home team once again proving to open Leinster up.
As the clock ticked towards its conclusion O’Brien exploited a gap and after what can only be described as some silky skills, he touched down.
Byrne would hit the post with the conversion, but the icing would be firmly added to the cake as Deegan grabbed his second try from close range thanks to a swift set-up from Michael Bent.
That man Byrne fired over the conversion to send the travelling Leinster supporters into raptures.
The final whistle would then sound confirming another win on road for the reigning champions who sit comfortably at the top of Conference B.
Leinster scorers: (M Deegan 2 tries, D Kearney, S Fardy and C O’Brien try each, R Byrne 1 try, 5 cons)
Zebre scorers: F Brummer 2 tries, J Elliot, G Di Giulio 1 try each, C Canna, 2 cons
ZEBRE: F Brummer, G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliot, C Canna, J Renton, D Rimpelli, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi, S Ortis, G Biagi, M Mbandá, J Tuivati, G Licata.
Replacements: D Chistolini for G Zilocchi 5, P Balekana for J Elliot 8, J Elliot for P Balekana 16, A Tauyavuca for G Biagi 59, L Luus for O Fabiani 63, D Fischetti for D Rimpelli 63, J Brown for S Ortis 78.
LEINSTER: D Kearney, A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, B Daly, R Byrne, J Gibson-Park, J McGrath, J Tracy, A Porter, R Moloney, S Fardy, J Murphy, M Deegan, C Doris.
Replacements: M Bent for A Porter 49, B Byrne for J Tracey 49, P Dooley for J McGrath 49, N Reid for R Byrne 61, M Kearney for J Murphy 61, R Byrne for A Byrne 69, H O’Sullivan for J Gibson-Park 77.
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).