Lowe grabs brace of tries as Leinster young guns ease past Zebre
Leinster 41 Zebre 6
A Saturday afternoon stroll in the park as Leinster's bonus point victory over Zebre cemented their place at the top of Conference B, and ensured that they maintained that winning habit.
It was always going to take a monumental upset for anything other than a home win, but even still, Zebre's lack of ambition was summed up by them naming four props and a hooker amongst their replacements.
Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Leavy and Devin Toner all came through the game unscathed as Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will have one eye on their Champions Cup semi-final against the Scarlets later this month.
James Lowe's infectious creativity caused Zebre problems all game, and the Kiwi winger brought his try tally to nine for the season with a brace, while Max Deegan's rapidly growing reputation was further enhanced as he also scored two tries.
Cullen was also afforded the luxury of handing a debut to Gavin Mullin, son of former Ireland and Lions centre Brendan.
A torrential downpour in the first half made conditions tricky, and ultimately it was Leinster who handled them much better.
Just as he did against Saracens last weekend, Lowe was on the scoresheet in Dublin again, as the prolific Kiwi winger got over early on to set Leinster on their way.
It came off the back of Leinster's first visit to the Zebre 22 after 12 minutes. Lowe's quick thinking saw him try to catch out the Italian's defence as he ran a kickable penalty.
That brave decision paid dividends as after he was stopped short of the line, Leinster recycled the ball and worked their way through the phases before Ross Byrne put Lowe over on the left.
Byrne added the extras for a 7-0 lead but midway through the half, a brilliant last ditch tackle from Jamison Gibson-Park on Leonard Krumov stopped what looked like a certain Zebre try. The Italian side were piling on the pressure and shortly after, Deegan did well to stop Marcello Violi getting over the whitewash.
After consulting with the TMO, referee Ian Davies correctly ruled no try and when he instead went back for a penalty in front of the posts, Carlo Canna put Zebre on the board.
Back came Leinster however, and this time Barry Daly provided the spark. The full-back's searing break from outside his own 22 had the Zebre defence scrambling and the hosts ruthlessly exposed them.
Again, they patiently worked their way through the phases and Lowe turned provider as he put Rory O'Loughlin over for a second try five minutes before the break.
A 12-3 half time lead quickly improved for Leinster as Deegan scored their third try with the second period barely a minute old.
The ball popped out at the back of a ruck and the No 8 was extremely clever in how he ran around the back, scooped up the ball and ran clear unopposed to score. Byrne's radar was continuing to malfunction but nevertheless, Leinster led 17-3.
A 52nd minute penalty from Canna cut the deficit, when you might have expected Zebre to show a little more ambition and kick for the corner.
Leinster wrapped up the bonus point on the hour mark as Deegan got over for his second try after O'Loughlin had shredded the Zebre defence again.
This time Byrne nailed the touchline conversion to push Leinster into a 24-6 lead, but he was unable to convert Lowe's second try with 12 minutes remaining.
The rain might have stopped at the RDS but by now, the floodgates had opened and the hosts were running riot.
Making just his second senior appearance, replacement tighthead Vakh Abdaladze burrowed his way over from close range for his first Leinster try and his side's sixth of the afternoon. Byrne's conversion left Leinster 36-6 to the good as Zebre were left with five minutes to stem the flow.
They couldn't manage it however as Leinster scored a seventh try, this time through Bryan Byrne who again impressed off the bench.
The ref eventually put Zebre out of their misery, as Leinster were left to wonder what exactly they learned from one of the most straightforward victories of their season.
Scorers – Leinster: Lowe and Deegan 2 tries each, O'Loughlin, Abdaladze, Bryan Byrne 1 try, Ross Byrne 3 cons. Zebre: Canna 2 pens.
Leinster - B Daly (C Frawley 44-49); A Byrne, R O'Loughlin (G Mullin 66), C O'Brien (C Frawley 66), J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park (N McCarthy 61); C Healy (P Dooley 54), J Tracy (B Byrne 54), T Furlong (V Abedaladze 54); D Toner (capt) (R Molony 62), M Kearney; Josh Murphy, D Leavy (P Timmins 62), M Deegan.
Zebre - M Minozzi; G Di Guilio, G Bisegni, F Afamasaga, M Bellini; C Canna (S Bordoli 64), M Violi (G Palazzani 62); A Lo votti (C Ah-Nau 64), O Fabiani (L Luus 27), D Chistolini (R Tenga 54); L Krumov, G Biagi (capt) (E Bello 59); V Bernabo, J Sarto, D Sisi.