Preview: Leinster v Zebre

Date published: February 19 2015

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor has announced his team to face Zebre in the PRO12 on Friday, with Zane Kirchner back in the side after injury.

With Ton Denton, Noel Reid and Richardt Strauss ruled out as they continue through the return to play protocols there are a number of changes in personnel with seven in total, three in the forwards and four in the backs. 

Kirchner returns from injury and starts at full-back with Fergus McFadden on the right wing and Luke Fitzgerald starting this weekend on the left wing. Gordon D'Arcy comes in at inside centre with Ben Te'o outside him at thirteen. 

In the half-backs there is a return from a knee injury for Eoin Reddan who hasn't played since the 20-20 draw against Wasps in the Champions Cup. While beside him Jimmy Gopperth wins his 50th cap for Leinster. To date the New Plymouth native has scored 299 points in the blue of Leinster (four tries, 48 conversions, 60 penalties and one drop goal). 

In the front-row Michael Bent again starts at loosehead with Marty Moore coming in at tighthead and Aaron Dundon starting at hooker. In the second-row Mike McCarthy and Kane Douglas are the starting pair, while there is no change to the back-row from last weekend with Dominic Ryan, captain Shane Jennings and number eight Jack Conan all starting once again.

Cian Healy makes a welcome return to Leinster colours and is in line to make his first appearance off the bench since the Guinness PRO12 game against the Scarlets in September.

Meanwhile, Zebre will be skippered by flanker Mauro Bergamasco who forms a back-row alongside Jacopo Sarto and number eight Samuela Vunisa.

Brendon Leonard and Luciano Orquera are the half-back combination while Matteo Pratichetti and Mirco Bergamasco in the centres.

Form: Leinster are winless in their last two matches, drawing 20-all with Wasps and tripping up at home to Dragons but have not gone three games without a victory since December 2012. The Leinstermen have never lost successive matches at the RDS Arena. Zebre's solitary victory in their last nine fixtures in all competitions came at home to Brive in the Challenge Cup on 17th January. Zebre's only two away victories since they were formed in 2012 came at Cardiff in the Pro12 in September 2013 and at Brive in the Challenge Cup in October 2014. Leinster have won all five previous encounters with Zebre outscoring the Italians by 20 tries to five, with Zebre gaining no league points and Leinster a maximum on four occasions.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Ben Te'o, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Shane Jennings (c), 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Aaron Dundon, 1 Michael Bent.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ben Marshall, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Cathal Marsh, 23 Dave Kearney.

Zebre: 15 Hendrik Daniller, 14 Dion Berryman, 13 Mirco Bergamasco, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Michele Visentin, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Mauro Bergamasco (c), 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 Michele Sutto, 4 Valerio Bernabò, 3 Luciano Leibson, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea De Marchi.

Replacements: 16 Lorenzo Giovanchelli, 17 Laert Naka, 18 Luca Redolfini, 19 Giacomo Bernini, 20 Ruben Riccioli, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Edoardo Padovani, 23 David Odiete.

Date: Friday, February 20
Venue: The RDS, Dublin
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry (Ireland), Stuart Douglas (Ireland)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)