Rampant Munster primed for big boys
Munster and Ireland winger Simon Zebo is relishing the first inter-provincial derby of the season when his side clash with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium next weekend.
Munster 49 Zebre 5
The 26-year-old versatile back scored the bonus-point try as Munster cruised to a seven-try victory over Zebre at Thomond Park on Saturday.
Munster have had it easy in the last two weeks against the Italians and Edinburgh, but standards will be through the roof with Leinster, Racing 92 and Glasgow Warriors to come in the next three weeks.
British and Irish Lion Zebo, who has been capped 25 times for Ireland, returned from a rib injury he picked up in Round 1 of the Pro12 against Scarlets. And he cannot wait to get back to the Aviva Stadium now.
"Confidence is high and we have got the momentum that we wanted going into the game.
"There's three big weeks coming up now and our attention shifts to Leinster. It's going to be a bigger and harder task, but one we are excited for," said Zebo.
"They have got a lot of internationals in their side and a good few young players coming through as well, who are pushing their senior players hard. They have got a lot of strength in depth.
"They started the tournament well. So it's two teams coming together who have got a big rivalry and a bit history together, but we are both in good places, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.
"But we have just got to focus on ourselves and make sure our preparation is right and what we can control, control. And I am sure we will be okay.
"I can't wait to get back to the Aviva Stadium. I will be chomping at the bit to get out there. Hopefully, we can get some similar weather and conditions, and we show some of the stuff we did today.
"I have got the injuries behind me which is the main thing. I am feeling fresh, I am feeling fast and that's all good. So the confidence is high.
"When I'm confident and on my game, I'm pretty confident that I can be effective for any team that I'm picked for," he said.
The following weekend, Munster begin their Champions Cup campaign with a trip to take on Ronan O'Gara's Racing 92 in Stade Yves Du Manoir.
After that, they welcome 2015 Pro12 champions Glasgow to Thomond Park for the first of their home European ties and Zebo knows the importance of what lies ahead.
"We are very excited. They are three massive games coming up for us. It doesn't end with Racing 92. We won't look too far ahead of ourselves. But we are well aware of the next couple of weeks coming up for this club.
"What it means to this group of players - it's going to set the tone for the rest of our season, what happens in the next few weeks. We really need to attack them and lay down a marker," he said.
It was far too easy for the hosts against Zebre - they had the bonus point sown up by the time Zebo touched down in the 32nd minute.
They led 28-0 at half-time and had five different try scorers on the day.
"It was a good game to come back into with nice, dry conditions. A fast track out there, so it was fun. It was an enjoyable first half, bit of a sloppy second half, but we will take the win and the bonus point going forward," said Zebo.
Ireland international back-row CJ Stander continued his impressive form with two tries, while Zebo, Darren Sweetnam, Conor Murray and Stephen Archer also got on the scoresheet.
But it was the return to fitness of Peter O'Mahony that was most noteworthy.
The 27-year-old Ireland flanker ruptured his cruciate in Ireland's World Cup victory over France last October. And he had not played for Munster since May 2015.
"Even if it wasn't a tough run of games, to get Peter back is such a huge boost for the whole of Munster - his competitiveness, his leadership," said director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
"He will take a lot of the leadership role that Billy Holland has been really doing well overall.
"It's just another experienced guy and a wonderful rugby player. It's great to have him in the squad."
Erasmus was excited by what he saw as his team preserved their perfect record at Thomond Park so far in 2016. "It's when you are looking forward to those games and I can see the guys are looking forward to it.
"We know how tough it will be and most of them are away."
Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, K Earls (C Bohane for 48), J Taute, A Wootton; T Bleyendaal (I Keatley 48), C Murray (D Williams 60); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 60), D Casey (N Scannell 67), S Archer (J Ryan 67); D Ryan, D O'Shea (P O'Mahony 60); B Holland, T O'Donnell (C Oliver 67), CJ Stander.
Zebre - E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Castello (T Boni 54), G Venditti (L Greeff 54); C Canna, G Palazzani (C Engelbrecht 68); A Lovotti (B Postiglioni 64), T D'Apice (C Festuccia 60), D Chistolini (G Roan 50); Q Geldenhuys, G Koegelenberg; J Sarto (D Minnie 46), J Meyer (J Furno 65), F Ruzza.
Ref - Dan Jones (WRU).