February 26, 2015
Before looking at the game it might be an idea to look at the context in the run-up to the game. Zebre are the worst team in the league at the moment. 5 days prior to the game in the RDS they were thrashed in Parma by a Glasgow side missing all their internationals by 10-54. Admittedly Zebre were missing a number of players themselves but still that is an incredibly poor loss at home. It took Glasgow 36 minutes to get their TBP and they put 8 tries past Zebre. This seemed to be the last straw and the Zebre coaches handed in their resignations mid-week last week. While they got some of their internationals back they were still missing a few and their preparation would have been seriously hampered by the resignation of the coaches.
So the worst team in the league were in an incredibly poor place prior to kick-off. And then 3 minutes after kick-off they lost their out-half Orquera to injury. After 19 minutes they lot one of their locks to injury. After 36 minutes their replacement out-half Edoardo Padovani had to be taken off injured and they were forced to play two scrum-halves at 9 and 10. At 61 minutes Zebre lost 2 of their back-row (Bergamasco and Sarto) having to replace them with their replacement back row and hooker. On 64 minutes they lost their second lock to injury and at this stage only had their replacement outside back left on the bench. Dion Berryman, the Zebre right wing, played through most of the second half with what looked to be broken ribs. That's a pretty farcical level of issues to befall any team. The impact it would have on such a weak side would be enormous.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Leinster went out in the first half and tried to play a lot of the rugby but were simply far too inaccurate. Yet again Leinster turned over a huge amount of ball through unforced errors, with 18 turnovers conceded over the 80 minutes. Eoin Reddan marked his return from injury with an error strewn performance himself, but the protection around the rucks was a long way off what it needed to be which didn't help. With ball in hand Leinster were predictable and one-dimensional. And any time they attempted to go through multiple phases the inevitably messed it up after the third or forth phase. Fergus McFadden was one of the few to come out of the first half well overall with his work down the right wing. However an ill advised clearing kick with Leinsters entire line in the left half of the pitch gave Zebre a huge amount of space to attack and after having very little possession or territory the Italian side opened the scoring with a try from full-back Daniller.
During one of Leinsters attacks into the Zebre 22 the home side won a penalty on the left-hand side and instead of going for the posts they elected to go to the corner. At this stage Zebre had lost their out-half and one of their locks to injury. They went to the maul which went nowhere, then they went to the backs and went nowhere but luckily Zebre were pinged for offside. So again Leinster went to the corner, again they tried to use the line-out maul and this time they knocked it on at the back of the maul. Scrum to Zebre. Again Zebre coughed up a penalty for playing the ball on the deck and again Leinster went to the corner. When they went to the line-out maul this time the ball was spilled out the back only to be cleaned up by Dundon. It was at this stage people would be forgiven for thinking that both sides were playing a game of Go For Broke because both sides seemed to be doing everything in their power to give the other side the advantage. Again another penalty for not rolling away was awarded and Zebre were given a final warning. And this time rather than put Zebre under pressure to force the card Leinster went for the points. It took 4 penalties and over 5 minutes in the Zebre 22 to come away with anything. And truth be told Leinster were lucky to even get into that position as a fairly blatant forward pass to McFadden in the build up was missed by the officials. The first half was so poor that despite Zebre losing 3 men to injuries Leinster were still 3-8 down.
Leinster improved a great deal in the second half. Cian Healy and Sean Cronin came in and both made a huge difference. Ben Te'o, who had looked handy enough all game, and Luke Fitzgerald linked up well early on and a lovely break from the latter saw him past 5 or 6 defenders before offloading out of the tackle to Gopperth. Ryan crashed over from a few metres out on the next phase. Ten minutes later Leinster were in again after Gopperth stepped inside Brendon Leonard brilliantly for try number 2. Despite Zebre losing more players to injury and starting to visibly tire it took Leinster an additional 15 minutes to score again when Luke Fitz got in in the corner. Leinster need every second on the clock though to get the TBP with Nigel Owens stopping the clock late on to prevent Zebre time wasting.
Zebre just couldn't get into the game at all in the second half though and it should never have taken so long to get the TBP given the players Leinster had on the field. Despite dominating most aspects of the game Leinster were still incredibly inaccurate and predictable. At one stage the ball was going wide to Luke who was facing Berryman (the winger with the suspected broken ribs) but because of inaccuracies in the passing Luke had to stop his run to wait for the ball to get to him allowing the injured winger who could barely run to get a clean tackle in when Luke received the ball. What should have been a line break was ruined by our own mistakes.
In previous seasons Leinster have used the international periods to climb the league table, getting near full match points from the 6 Nations period in particular. This season they have so far gotten 6 from a possible 10 match points with trips away to Ospreys and Scarlets to come. It's hard to see with their current form how they are going to get wins in these games, especially seeing as they have a very poor record on the road this season. But if Leinster want to make the play-offs this season they simply must win at least one of those 2 games. Lose both and they will be on a maximum of 49 points with 5 games to go including Glasgow at home and Ulster away. And at that point unless Leinster win every single game thereafter or some others make a mess of their run-ins Leinster may not make the play-offs. There needs to be a big turnaround in performances and soon. Sadly it's not the first time we've said that this season.......