Zebre hoping Leinster will be rusty after three-week gap
Michael Bradley including four Azzurri in squad while Leinster bring in young blood
Zebre head coach Michael Bradley: Italian centre Giulio Bisegni, outhalf Carlo Canna and two back rowers, Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti, will start against the league leaders. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Inpho
Zebre v Leinster
Zaffanella Stadium 2.30pm
Zebre head coach and former Irish scrumhalf Michael Bradley has included four Azzurri in his team to face Leinster in Italy. Italian centre Giulio Bisegni, outhalf Carlo Canna and the two back rowers, Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti, will start against the league leaders. As the teams are in different conferences, it will probably be their only meeting.
Bradley may feel a slight glimmer of hope in that Leinster have not played a competitive match for three weeks, the last time out earning a narrow 22-17 win over Scarlets on January 25th.
Dave Kearney at fullback this week continues to try to move his form forward after an injury-free run as well as two European Cup matches against Toulouse and Wasps. This week’s wingers are Adam Byrne on the right and Barry Daly, both providing gas out wide.
Coach Leo Cullen also has an all-international frontrow, with Jack McGrath hoping to impress as well as James Tracy and Andrew Porter, who has had a couple of run-outs for Ireland in their opening Six Nations matches.
As ever with Leinster, young players are popping up everywhere, the trio of Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and Josh Murphy packing just as much young talent as you can get into a backrow. Murphy is 23 years old, Deegan 22 and number eight Doris 20. Captain Scott Fardy in the secondrow could almost hold the threat of detention over that bunch.
Leinster are enjoying an almost isolated position at the top of the table in Conference B, with clear blue water between them and their nearest rivals. A full 21 points separates them from Treviso, who have 37 points to Leinster’s 58. In Conference A, Bradley’s club Zebre are labouring at the bottom of the table on 17 points.
Having been an unused replacement in the win against Scarlets, Academy forward Jack Dunne is another player to come through the Leinster system via St Michael’s College. Currently on a rugby scholarship in Trinity, the lock – when not lining out with Leinster – is studying theoretical physics.
ZEBRE: F Brummer; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; C Canna, J Renton; D Rimpelli, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi, S Ortis, G Biagi (capt), M Mbandà, J Tuivaiti, G Licata. Replacements: L Luus, D Fischetti, D Christolini, A Tauyavuca, J Brown, R Raffaele, P Balekana, N De Battista
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 Molony, S Fardy (capt); J Murphy, M Deegan, C Doris. Replacements: B Byrne, P Dooley, M Bent, M Kearney, J Dunne, H O’Sullivan, N Reid, J O’Brien.
Referee: I Davies (WRU)
Verdict: Leinster win