Leinster v Zebre – Pro14 Preview

Didn’t Leinster just lift the Pro14 trophy last month and we’re now already 3 games into the following season? What a whirlwind it’s been! Oh, and by the way, the 6 Nations resume tomorrow!!!

Anyway, another Pro14 season is well and truly underway and Leinster have picked up where they left off last season by picking up two wins from two and securing bonus points in each. The three-in-a-row champions (I love saying that) are back in the RDS this evening to take on the team that seemed to bring it’s biggest challenge to the boys in blue! Zebre will travel to try and improve on their result against us last season. Zebre failed to score any points in the last meeting in Dublin, however, the final score that day was 3 nil to Leinster!! I know, insane stuff, another record for Leinster!
This score was a result of many handling errors on Leinster’s side and a solid defensive effort from the Italians. The game hung on the balance throughout and could easily have gone either way, and even ended up a draw. Needless to say, it was a very frustrating game to watch as I’m sure it was to play, let’s hope tonight’s game will be a better showing!

With 6 Nations rugby back this weekend, both squads will be missing their main internationals, funnily enough Ireland will be facing Italy at the Aviva tomorrow afternoon. Leinster has fielded a very fresh looking side, with plenty of opportunities handed to the young lads, four of which will earn their first cap.

Below is the team sheet for this evening:

15. Jimmy O’Brien (19)
14. Tommy O’Brien (4)
13. Liam Turner (0)
12. Ciarán Frawley (27)
11. Dave Kearney (149)
10. Harry Byrne (11)
9. Luke McGrath (129)
1. Peter Dooley (76)
2. Dan Sheehan (0)
3. Michael Bent (142)
4. Ross Molony (97)
5. Devin Toner (249)
6. Josh Murphy (33)
7. Scott Penny (14)
8. Rhys Ruddock (175) CAPTAIN

16. James Tracy (111)
17. Michael Milne (9)
18. Ciaran Parker (0)
19. Jack Dunne (7)
20. Scott Fardy (62)
21. Hugh O’Sullivan (20)
22. David Hawkshaw (0)
23. Dan Leavy (63)

We have a new center (Liam Turner) and hooker (Dan Sheehan) making their debuts in the starting 15. Sheehan in particular is highlight rated and will be very interesting to see how he performs.
Ciaran Frawley is back from injury but will take up the 12 position and Harry Byrne will start at 10. Luke Mc Grath is back at 9 after being omitted from the Irish squad. Rhys Ruddock will captain the side and will be joined by a strong pack in this starting lineup.
On the bench we have a great surprise return in the form of Dan Leavy. Leavy has been out injured since the quarter final of the Champions Cup last season (against Ulster) where he sustained a major knee injury. He’s back to get some game time under his belt and hopefully return to his brilliant best. Two additional debutants await first caps, Ciaran Parker (front row) and David Hawkshaw (out-half).
So, just the 8 internationals in the matchday 23!

All in all, it’s a strong Leinster squad despite the omission of the big guns. Over the past few games, it’s been made very clear that our second team are capable of performing just as well, if not better on some occasions, than the first team. The hunger for success, determination for matchday call up, and the overall desire to challenge the pecking order is what drives these young lads, it’s very evident to see their passion for the club each time they get called up.
There’s a nice sprinkling of leaders in the squad so the younger crop will benefit greatly from their direction throughout the game. Ross Molony’s voice within the squad and overall leadership has had a great impact, you can frequently see how vocal he gets with the pack in each game he plays. Having him there alongside Ruddock will be a big advantage; two great leaders running the defensive lines.
I’m delighted to see Dave Kearney back, he had a fantastic last season and has become an even great threat in attack and a lot more clinical with the try scoring. This lad is the perfect replacement for Lowe as he carries hard and can brush off tacklers close to the try line, a great skill that not a lot of wingers have mastered. My cheeky prediction is that he’ll score the first try of the match!

Look, all the signs look to a Leinster win, potentially a bonus point win. However, I probably thought that the last time around, but I think Leinster will be worked on a lot of things following that match, and will be under no illusion today as to the threat Zebre pose if you’re not up for their challenge.

Where the game will be won
As already mentioned, I would certainly expect a win for Leinster tonight, pretty much not based on cockiness but just the fact that we have never lost to Zebre before, and rarely lose at home. In order to win, Leinster will need to be strong upfront and dictate the territory position. Basic ball handling and set piece moves will need to be strong too, otherwise we could fall into the same trap as we did during the same fixture last season.

Prediction
Leinster has a new look to the squad this week but it packs a big punch. I think we can expect a slow enough start, potentially with a good bit of kicking while both sides try and suss out the form on each side. Once Leinster get up and running, around 15 min mark, I think we’ll start to see a few scores in short succession and a reasonable lead at half time. From there, I’m hoping to see a winning bonus point secured in the second half to complete the Italian job (sorry), leading to the retention of a perfect start to the season.

Leinster 38 – Zebre 13

Match day result: Leinster 63 – Zebre 8

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