Tuesday 26 March 2019

Stand-ins stretch Leinster's lead

Zebre 24 Leinster 40

Leinster's Max Deegan, 7, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first try. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Max Deegan, 7, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first try. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leinster started and finished in style in Viadana to extend their lead at the top of Conference B to 21 points, but in between an understrength side were pushed all the way by Zebre.

The hosts, like the visitors, were massively depleted because of the Six Nations, but they trailed by just four points with five minutes remaining after recovering from a nightmare start.

Dave Kearney of Leinster scores his side's second try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dave Kearney of Leinster scores his side's second try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leinster raced into a 21-0 lead after just 22 minutes but yet were fortunate to lead by the interval as Michael Bradley's men came storming back despite having a man in the bin.

Max Deegan gave Leinster a perfect start with a try off a lineout drive on seven minutes after Zebre tried to get three pods in the air to defend the throw.

Dave Kearney got in for Leinster's second try on 13 minutes after they created an overlap out wide on the left after a lineout on the right, with Ross Byrne adding a second conversion.

Byrne got in for his first PRO14 try despite Zebre's strong claims for blocking, and his conversion pushed the lead out to 21-0, with the Italians losing flanker Jimmy Tuivaiti to a yellow card.

Ross Byrne of Leinster runs in his side's third try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ross Byrne of Leinster runs in his side's third try. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

That should have been enough for Leinster to wrap up the bonus point and push on out of sight but the Zebre pack got on top and that gave them a platform to get back in the match.

They reduced the gap on the half-hour when a superb offload by No 8 Giovanni Licata sent full-back Francois Brummer through and the South African touched down to score.

An intercept of a loose Jamison Gibson-Park pass presented Zebre with their second try three minutes later; winger Jamie Elliott still had a lot of work to do from deep, but Adam Byrne never looked like catching him.

Carlo Canna, guilty of dropping the ball with a clear run to the line earlier, converted both tries but was narrowly off target with his third attempt after Gabriele di Giulio scored in the right corner, and deep into stoppage-time Canna missed a drop-goal attenmpt which would have given the hosts the lead at the break.

Instead, Leinster turned around leading by 21-19 but had to absorb a lot of Italian pressure after the restart before Scott Fardy gave them some breathing space when he got over after Ross Byrne was stopped short after 54 minutes.

But Zebre hit back and deservedly reduced the margin when Brummer got over for his second try to cut the gap to 28-24 going into the final quarter.

Zebre turned down a couple of penalties at the posts but Leinster defended well and cleared their lines before Noel Reid put Conor O'Brien over to seal the issue.

Deegan completed the rout with his second try in the dying moments of a game where the promising Jack Dunne came on in the second row to make his Leinster debut as Leo Cullen's men made it 13 wins from 15 in this season's league.

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