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Blues 'stop-start' on Zebre crossing

If Ireland hit their peak in Paris, Leinster could barely lift their game out of the trough as Jordi Murphy guaranteed a precious bonus-point in the 27-0 defeat of bottom club Zebre in the PRO12 League at The RDS.

"It was a very stop-start encounter wasn't it? It was inaccurate from us. We'll be better for that," said coach Matt O'Connor.

"The slow ball and greasy conditions certainly contributed to it. They were very hard off the line. They put us under pressure. They didn't let us get the ball into the wide spaces."

Leinster made their intentions clear from the get-go. Ian Madigan passed up three pots at the posts for a lineout-drive in the opening minutes, the third of which was looking like a certain try until Isaac Boss broke early from the maul.

The out-half was handed the decision on what to do about a fourth penalty. He kicked it on the occasion of his 100th cap, realising Zebre were not in Dublin to roll over last night.

The problem for the Italians was that their fly-half Tomasso Iannone wasted two chances to level it up and they needed to take every opening they made.

Madigan dissected the defence with a chip, only for wing Darragh Fanning to be blind to the support line by centre Noel Reid, flanker Andries van Schalkwyk seeing yellow for his illegal work.

The extra space was exploited by Fergus McFadden to put Leinster into the right part of the field from where Reid eventually took a line inside wing Giulio Toniolatti for the first try in the 34th minute.

It wouldn't have taken a psychic to read coach Matt O'Connor's mind at the interval and he must have given his players a piece of it for their careless protection of the ball and shoddy ruck work.

The rudderless play of the first period continued as players from both sides struggled to master the basics of the game. It needed a spark. Luke Fitzgerald looked the most likely.

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It turned out that way when replacement Eoin Reddan spotted space down the short side as a Leinster maul rumbled towards the line to find Fitzgerald going low into the corner. Madigan converted for 15-0 in the 58th minute.

The continuity was starting to come and the superb footwork of Reid created the space for Fitzgerald's second finish in the 66th minute, the left wing being promptly removed from a second late hit.

Really, the home side could not have complained had they been held up short of their target in the last play, the forwards getting up a head of steam for Murphy to touch down.

It means Leinster are five points clear of Ulster – they beat Edinburgh 9-3 away – and six in front of Munster at the top of the table with Munster to make their way to the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.

"It's a huge game. It's a massive game for us in the League. We're first. They're third. We have to make sure we stay ahead of them," said O'Connor.

"You want to keep that momentum going. It's near on, if not a sell-out. We want to make sure we're up for the occasion and we do the fans justice."


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