February 17, 2016
The defeat to the Dragons was a very disappointing result. In poor conditions, away from home and missing a large number of players it was certainly a game that the home side would have fancied and the loss itself wouldn't be an unreasonable result for Leinster. But throwing away the Losing Bonus Point at the end was pretty unforgivable. That point would have brought Leinster second with just a point between them and Ulster in first. And a 5 pointer against Zebre would have put Leinster top of the table. Hopefully Leinster won't rue that lost point at the end of the season, but with things currently as tight as they are at the top they may well.
Leinster opened the scoring after 8 minutes with Hayden Triggs getting over from close range following some clever kicking from Boss and, would you believe it, Cian Healy. Good carrying from Te'o off a Leinster scrum got Leinster on the front foot and the try was inevitable from there. However Zebre weren't going to just lie down at this early stage in the game and they started carrying effectively themselves and making some yardage. Eventually Leinster were penalised for not rolling away at the ruck and Zebre had a chance to get on the board. As it happened this was the only scoring chance Zebre could muster all game long and they fluffed it badly with the kick going right and wide by a distance.
Leinster came back and scored what was probably the try of the evening. Te'o, who had already been carrying into contact really well, sucked in 2 defenders and opened a hole for Marsh to attack through. Once in behind the Zebre defensive line the young out-half got a lovely offload away to Adam Byrne, who himself found Gary Ringrose with a lovely pass. With both Kirchner and Nacewa coming onto the ball at pace outside the Leinster centre it was a very straight forward run in from there. But the composure and the skills from the younger guys in midfield was a joy to watch.
Leinster continued to push but unfortunately the maul, which has been a real problem since the start of last season, really let them down. Leinster just seemed completely incapable of getting a line-out maul from 5m out across the line. At the first attempt Zebre even managed to strip the ball within the maul itself and exit their danger area. A superb break from the Zebre full-back brought play up to their 10m line. Luckily for Leinster the subsequent clearance kick rolled dead bringing them back for the scrum. Another penalty allowed Leinster a second bite of the cherry, but again their maul was ineffectual. This time Luke McGrath, who had come on for the injured Isaac Boss, spotted a gap around the fringes and crossed for Leinsters third try.
Some more good work from McGrath led to Leinsters bonus point score. A quick snipe around the short side of a ruck on the 22 drew the Zebre defence putting Leinster on the front foot. His pass found Josh van der Flier with Tracey and Adam Byrne outside him. With the defence back peddling and some good strength from Adam Byrne Leinster were in in the corner for try number 4.
With the 5 points in the bag, and after a couple of substitutions at the start of the second half, the third quarter was a fairly dull affair. Without Te'o and Nacewa Leinster lacked any real penetration. Cathal Marsh, though good in many respects, was shown to be fairly limited. He just shipped ball on and with no big carriers in midfield to tie down defenders the ball was going wide early and Leinster just couldn't find any space in the Zebre defence. But some nice broken field running from Kirchner and Kelleher (who had come on for Nacewa) got Leinster into a try scoring position where a nice line and some good feet from Jordi Murphy got Leinster moving on the scoreboard again.
Sean Cronin got over from close range before a beautiful little break from the hooker-cum-winger (through what was clearly a very tired Zebre defence) put Ringrose away for try number 7. And with less than 5 minutes remaining Cian Kelleher retrieved a clearing kick on his own 10m line, slipped the chaser, turned on the afterburners and raced home for a fantastic individual score.
A huge win for the Boys in Blue, but one that should be taken in context. Zebre were very poor on the night, themselves missing over a dozen players to the Italian national team. While they were up for it in the opening quarter, the fight was gone out of them before half time. They defended reasonably well for the opening 20 of the second half, but were aided by some lateral and predictable attack from Leinster. They were well and truly done in the last 20 minutes which allowed Leinster to bag 4 more tries. From a Leinster perspective there were pleasing elements with how the young lads went about their work. Ringrose and Tracey were the picks of the bunch there. Healy and Ross got some much needed game time too. Cian Kelleher showed the kind of pace that Leinster have been missing of late, although having seen him for the As questions still remain about his ability against physically tougher opposition. However Leinsters maul is still very much a mess. This is a real concern as they should be able to put away sides like this with a line-out maul from 5m. Also a concern is where the strong carrying in midfield is going to come from next season with Te'o gone and Henshaw with Ireland. Even a poor Zebre coped easily with Leinster when Te'o went off. We're going to need to find another option there for the coming seasons.