Preview: Zebre v Leinster

Date published: October 10 2014

Leinster coach Matt O’Connor welcomes back a number of players for Saturday’s PRO12 clash with Zebre at Stadio XXV Aprile.

Leinster coach Matt O’Connor welcomes back a number of players for Saturday’s PRO12 clash with Zebre at Stadio XXV Aprile.

Hooker Richardt Strauss will make his 95th appearance for Leinster as he makes a welcome return nearly five months to the day of his last appearance, against Edinburgh.

A serious hamstring injury, which needed surgery, put paid to his season but he makes a return in a front row that also includes Jack McGrath and Marty Moore, who have also recovered from respective calf and shoulder niggles.

In the second row, Mike McCarthy is partnered by Kane Douglas who makes his first appearance away from home for Leinster. Devin Toner starts from the bench.

With an average age of 22, the back row has a young feel to it with 23-year-old Irish international Rhys Ruddock very much the veteran with 85 caps and four tries to his name.

He is joined by Jack Conan who makes his second start for the province and by Academy player Josh van der Flier, who makes his full debut having started the pre-season friendly against Northampton Saints and having come off the bench against Ulster a week later in Tallaght Stadium.

Rob Kearney will captain the team from full-back with recent Bank of Ireland player of the month winner for September, Darragh Fanning, continuing on the left wing with Zane Kirchner making a welcome return on the right wing. This is Kirchner’s first game back since picking up an injury against Scarlets in Round Two.

Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan start as the half-back partnership while Noel Reid and Gordon D’Arcy pull on the number 12 and 13 jersey. This will be Reid’s first game since going off after less than a minute in the Round One game away to Glasgow.

Meanwhile, the sixth round clash is Zebre’s third straight home game and the Italian side will be looking for their second win of the season.

The coaching staff announced three changes to the side that lost to Ospreys last Friday. It’s a special occasion for Tommaso Iannone as he earns his first cap of the season for Zebre at outside centre, replacing Giulio Bisegni who is unavailable due to injury.

Edoardo Padovani replaces Luciano Orquera at number ten for the Italians while South African-born lock Quintin Geldenhuys pairs up with captain Marco Bortolami in the second row in place of George Biagi, who will be on the bench.

Form: Zebre play a third successive home game at Stadio Aprile XXV, having beaten Ulster there in Round 4 and losing by the narrowest of margins to Ospreys last weekend. The Italians have lost just twice in their last seven fixtures in Parma. Leinster tripped up 23-34 to Munster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday but have not lost back-to-back PRO12 encounters in the same season since 2010/11. The Leinstermen have lost only one of their 16 previous clashes with Italian opponents in the tournament: 13-29 in Treviso in September 2010. Leinster have won all four previous fixtures against Zebre, gaining a try bonus point on each occasion and preventing Zebre from gaining even a single league point

The teams:

Zebre: 15 David Odiete, 14 Giulio Toniolatti, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Filippo Cristiano, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (capt), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Valerio Bernab