Preview: Leinster v Zebre

Date published: January 5 2017

Leinster boss Leo Cullen has made seven changes in total from the team that accounted for Ulster in Round 12 last weekend as the Irish side finished the calendar year unbeaten in the RDS Arena.

In the backs, three internationals return with Zane Kirchner taking up his place at full-back, as Adam Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin continue on the wings.

The second change sees Robbie Henshaw come in to the number 13 jersey to partner Garry Ringrose in the centre.

The final change is in the half-backs with Johnny Sexton captaining the side from number ten and partnering Luke McGrath who continues at scrum-half.

In the pack, Cian Healy and James Tracy start alongside Michael Bent who will win his 75th cap for the province.

Devin Toner and Hayden Triggs are again selected as the second row combination but there are two final additions in the back row.

Dan Leavy starts at blindside flanker, with Jack Conan coming in at the base of the scrum in the number eight jersey. Sean O’Brien starts again this week but with Leavy starting at six, O’Brien swaps across and fills the number seven jersey for the final PRO12 game before attention turns to the Champions Cup.

On the bench Sean Cronin is in line to win his 125th cap for the province should he be introcued at some stage.

Meanwhile, Zebre also make seven changes in the starting line-up; four in the backs and three in the forward unit. 

Former All Blacks Sevens captain Kurt Baker switches to full-back with Italian international Edoardo Padovani starting at fly-half instead of Carlo Canna, who gets a rest.

In the pack, Federico Ruzza will start at flanker instead of the injured Johan Meyer, while prop Pietro Ceccarelli completes an international front row along with Andrea Lovotti and Tommaso D’Apice.

On the bench, flanker Maxime Mbandà is back in after his recovery from the injury occurred with the Azzurri against the All Blacks in Rome during the November Test matches.

Form: Leinster’s only defeat in their last five first team fixtures was 17-25 in Munster on St Stephen’s Day. Leinster have lost just once at the RDS Arena in the PRO12 since March 2013: 14-16 to the Dragons in February 2015. Zebre have won just one game in the PRO12 this season, 19-14 in Edinburgh in round 7, but they have also picked up 5 losing bonus points along the way. Leinster have a played nine, won nine record against Zebre and have won all thirteen previous games against Italian opposition at the RDS Arena with only Aironi (in February 2011) gaining any league points from those encounters.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Dan Leavy, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jamie Heaslip, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Noel Reid

Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Federico Ruzza, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D’Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Giovanbattista Venditti, 23 Serafin Bordoli

Date: Friday, January 6
Venue: RDS
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Jonny Erskine (Ireland)
TMO: Neil Hennessey (Wales)