Leinster continued their impressive start to the 2020/21 PRO14 season by producing another excellent display to defeat Zebre 63-8 at the RDS Arena on Friday.
The game also marked Dan Leavy’s return to action after more than 18 months on the sidelines, with the Ireland flanker coming on for the final half-hour and narrowly missing out on a late try.
There was a first try for Dan Sheehan, one of Leinster’s four debutants, and a second for Tommy O’Brien as the hosts cantered into a 28-3 half-time lead.
Michael Bent and Dave Kearney also crossed as Zebre had a lone Paolo Pescetto penalty. They did touch down through Michelangelo Biondelli, but Harry Byrne landed all nine conversions as Sheehan, Josh Murphy, Ciaran Parker, O’Brien and Scott Penny shared the rest of Leinster’s tries.
Handling errors blighted the early exchanges, while Zebre lost ex-Leinster lock Ian Nagle to a head injury. Leinster scored from their first trip to the visitors’ 22, captain Rhys Ruddock to the fore as good work by the forwards ended with prop Bent piling over.
Young fly-half Byrne converted and also added the extras to Leinster’s second try in the 19th minute. The Zebre lineout malfunctioned close to their own line, allowing 22-year-old hooker Sheehan to gather at the rear and finish smartly.
Pescetto replied with a well-struck penalty from distance for 14-3, but Leinster were warming to their task. A clever wraparound off a maul saw Sheehan feed back inside for winger Kearney to push the lead out to 18 points.
The Italians left space around the side of a ruck in the 36th minute, allowing Luke McGrath to have a cut and lay off for the onrushing O’Brien to raid in behind the posts.
How good is it to see this man back in action at the RDS 😍
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) October 23, 2020
Man-of-the-match Sheehan powered over just a couple of minutes into the second half. With talismanic number eight Jimmy Tuivati also forced off, injury-hit Zebre battled on and were lifted by Marco Manfredi’s turnover penalty.
Ciaran Frawley’s clever footwork paved the way for flanker Murphy to go over from close range, and right on the hour mark, loan signing Parker proved unstoppable from fellow replacement Hugh O’Sullivan’s flat pass.
Two slick kicks from replacements Josh Renton and Antonio Rizzi unlocked the home defence for winger Biondelli’s 66th-minute effort. Leavy was involved in some excellent handling which set up O’Brien’s second of the night, and flanker Penny enjoyed a 30-metre run-in with five minutes remaining.
Scarlets edge past Benetton
The Scarlets claimed their first win of the PRO14 season after narrowly defeating Benetton 10-3 in a dire game in Treviso.
There was only one score in the first half as Ian Keatley kicked a penalty to give the Italians a 3-0 lead at the break, but Angus O’Brien levelled matters on the hour mark.
It was a tense encounter but the visitors produced the decisive moment when Paul Asquith crossed the whitewash to snatch the win, despite Morgan Jones’ late red card.