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Blues to take down Zebre

COACH Matt O'Connor sounds hopeful rather than convinced Luke Fitzgerald's injury troubles are behind him.

"He's got through training this week. He feels very good in himself. Hopefully, he gets to kick on and puts in a good shift for us."

The left wing will return to action for the first time in one month; the second in two months from a perplexing abdominal injury that has proved difficult to solve.

"It is one of those awkward pelvic issues that you never really know about," said O'Connor.

"When you play the game like Luke does, there's a massive amount of force put through that area of his body on any given playing or training day."

Ireland's Fergus McFadden will get first shot at the No 13 as O'Connor begins the quest to find a long-term successor to Brian O'Driscoll, with Brendan Macken limited to the bench.

Half-backs Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan, McFadden and No 8 Jordi Murphy start, with prop Martin Moore and scrum-half Eoin Reddan held in reserve.

Kevin McLaughlin has made a swift recovery from minor surgery on a facial injury and Richardt Strauss will be at hooker beside tight-head Tadhg Furlong, making his full debut at home for his seventh cap.

The Leinster Academy prop, 21, will have club captain Leo Cullen and Mike McCarthy in the second row to provide guidance against what O'Connor called "a strong front five".

It's getting tighter than a tin of sardines at the top of the PRO12 League with Leinster holding a one-point lead over Munster and four over Ulster as the Irish provinces have moved away from the Ospreys in fourth.

Zebre have taken five internationals that earned game time with Italy in the Six Nations in the form out-half Tomasso Iannone, skipper Marco Bortolami, fellow lock George Biagi se well as reserves Davide Giazzon and Guiglielmo Palazzani.

All in all, this doesn't look to be the tallest of orders for a Leinster collective that will look for the win first and have a pop at the bonus-point if and when appropriate. Verdict: Leinster

Leinster: Z Kirchner; D Fanning, F McFadden, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong, L Cullen (capt), M McCarthy, K McLaughlin, D Ryan, J Murphy.

Zebre: D Odiete; G Toniolatti, G Venditti, K Ratuvou, D Berryman; T Iannone, B Leonard; S Perugini, T D'Apice, D Ryan, G Biagi, M Bartolami (capt), F Ferrarini, A van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.


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