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"...there really can be no excuses for this result."
"...there really did seem to be a lack of overall leadership on the park."
"We played badly, we lost a game we should have won, and there’s no sugar coating it."
To those who accused me of "defending" and "glossing over" Leinster's poor display against the Dragons in my writeup earlier in the week, I apologise.
I try not to make them too gushy when we win well, so by the same token I try not to make them too moany when we lose badly, but in all honesty I thought I covered the whole "bad performance thing" anyway. I also try to approach them from a different angle since most people reading it already know the result and who scored the points.
Anywho...here's hoping I'm not put in a similar situation for the next writeup! :-)
I usually end these previews with my prediction, but I'll move it up a few paragraphs this time because it's not so much a prediction as it's a demand. The bookies are going for a 29 point margin. I'm sticking with the 25 I had for the Dragons game, with of course the proviso that we get at least four tries in the bargain.
And it's not as though we've a worse lineup than we did on Sunday, and that's saying something given we lost so many to the concussion protocols. Can't have RIchardt Strauss, Tom Denton & Noel Reid? Fine - how do Sean Cronin (bench), Mike McCarthy & Gordon D'Arcy sound? Oh...and Zane Kirchner starting at fullback, Marty Moore at tight-head, Eoin Reddan at scrum-half with Cian Healy & Dave Kearney on the bench to boot.
Yeah, I'll take those replacements if I have to. But with that improved lineup comes more pressure to perform, and while Zebre are considered the league's whipping boys, it will take more than the player's CVs to get the job done.
One I will be watching in particular is Ben Te'o. He made more than one impressive line break last Sunday but with four knockons (3 in the final 10 minutes) plus the fact that with a TMO in place his pass leading to our lone try would probably been ruled forward, he needs 80 minutes of error-free ball in my book if he's to stand any chance of making the 23 to play Bath.
Another who deserves a mention tonight is Shane Jennings, who leads out the side having announced his impending retirement yesterday. I have a feeling he'll want to be more focused on getting stuck in to his opposing back row which includes Marco Bergamasco than he will taking plaudits, but I'm sure he'll get an extra big cheer from the RDS faithful when his name is called out.
But what we need most of all from the boys in blue tonight is a team display that both puts last Sunday to bed and sends the message that we're ready for the business end of the season.
Yes, the Dragons defeat put a massive dent in our quest for a home semifinal. But around us on the table Munster, Ulster and Connacht are all away this weekend to teams who have just scored big victories and on top of that, Glasgow and Ospreys will be taking points off of each other. A five-pointer tonight will put us right back up the mix so in my book it's all to play for.
Thankfully when it comes to facilities we have a setup more befitting a league known as the "Pro" 12 tonight as Nigel Owens, despite a few hiccups, will be the ref and he will even have the assistance of a TMO if required (though that of course should always be the case at this level).
The match is on TG4 but if you fancy some thoughts as Béarla, we'll be liveblogging the game from about 6:30pm so tune in to stay in touch, and if you have any thoughts yourself throughout the match send us a tweet to @HarpinOnRugby and we'll pass on the best comments.
See you down the RDS tonight - we need to get the place rocking to help the boys in blue do likewise on the pitch.
Zebre : 15 Hendrik Daniller 14 Dion Berryman 13 Mirco Bergamasco 12 Matteo Pratichetti 11 Michele Visentin 10 Luciano Orquera 9 Brendon Leonard
1 Andrea De Marchi 2 Oliviero Fabiani 3 Luciano Leibson 4 Valerio Bernabo 5 Michele Sutto 6 Jacopo Sarto 7 Mauro Bergamasco (cap) 8 Samuela Vunisa
16 Lorenzo Giovanchelli 17 Laert Naka 18 Luke Redolfini 19 Giacomo Bernini 20 Ruben Curls 21 Alberto Chillon 22 Edoardo Padovani 23 David Odiete
Guinness Pro 12 - Round 15
At RDS Arena
Friday, February 20, kickoff 7:35pm
Live on TG4
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 118th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, Stuart Douglas (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Denis Templeton (IRFU)
TMO: Dermot Moloney (IRFU)