Friday, February 15, 2019

Preview : Zebre v Leinster


Perhaps the bookies have a sense of irony about them when they offer Leinster as 21-point favourites for Saturday's clash at the Stadio Zaffanella.

I seem to mention it every time I write on these pages lately, but a lead of 21pts in top spot with 7 games to go is impressive in any modern day rugby competition.  But I don't continue harping on it because I'm a Leinster fan who wants to show off.  Oh, alright, maybe a bit, though it's not JUST for that reason 😉.

Then you look across to our opposition, who are almost as far away at the bottom of Conference A as we are at the top of B.  Michael Bradley is a quality coach who has done great things around European rugby, but this was always going to be a challenge for him.

The way I see it we have to keep bringing up this gulf in standards because rather than suggest we have nothing to play for this weekend, it can instead serve as reminder to those playing at times like this, ie in the middle of the Six Nations, that the last thing they want to do is to leave that margin any lower than when they found it as the stars eventually return to the lineup.

And if you think that serves as their only motivation, you can think again. Many of this latest matchday 23 have been involved in the test set up before, more still are hoping to be involved at some stage.  And all are to be skippered by the ever dependable Scott Fardy.  So clearly this should not be a Leinster team that plans to take this fixture lightly.

Central to our ability to press home our advantage will of course be our halfbacks and our centres.  Matches like this pose a challenge for Jamison Gibson-Park in that while he has often shown himself to be a great asset off the bench, when it comes to long stretches where he needs to facilitate others to make something happen he can have mixed results.

Overall I feel it's important for Ross Byrne to control this match as much as he can, and with the likes of Dave Kearney, Rory O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne on the pitch with him, his amazing target-finder of a boot can be used to perfection and weather permitting I reckon this is what we could see him often going for at the weekend.

Of course he can't just try kick passes at any time; first he must have the space and we've a decent stock of ball carriers to choose from in the pack as well as crashing inside centre Conor O’Brien - this is yet another good opportunity for him to show his worth.

Max Deegan is another flying below the test radar, which is unfortunate because I really feel his Leinster career hit the ground running and after a recent stint at 6 he now moves to the other side of the scrum, no doubt to show off his full versatility to hold his hand up as the natural replacement for Jordi.

Then there's Jack McGrath - I have absolutely no complaints about Dave Kilcoyne nipping ahead of him in the Irish pecking order but with a good outing here Jack can certainly do much to put himself back in contention for a role down the road in Rome the following Saturday.

There's some youth on the bench but to be honest if I were Leo Cullen & co I'd be disappointed if they starters didn't have his result put to bed by the time they're introduced.  After the season we had last year, such are the standards we have to expect if the success is to continue and I'm sure all involved know this full well.

So I'm going to pile on some extra pressure and predict a margin that will beat the bookies' margin.  We have a lot of proven try-scorers and (-creators) on show but simply getting five-pointers won't be enough to win by my expected 25; it will be important to keep things solid defensively too and as always I will be keeping a keen eye on this.

Matches like these are ones that are only remembered if the result goes the wrong way - so here's hoping we'll be forgetting it quickly!  JLP

#COYBIB

Zebre : 15 Francois Brummer 14 Gabriele Di Giulio 13 Giulio Bisegni 12 Tommaso Boni 11 James Elliott 10 Carlo Canna 9 Joshua Renton
1 Daniele Rimpelli  2 Oliviero Fabiani 3 Giosué Zilocchi 4 Samuele Ortis 5 George Biagi (cap) 6 Maxime Manda 7 Jimmy Tuivaiti 8 Giovanni Licata
16 Luhandre Luus 17 Danilo Fischetti 18 Dario Chistolini 19 Apisai Tauyavuca 20 James Brown 21 Riccardo Raffaele 22 Paula Balekana 23 Nicolas De Battista

Guinness Pro14 2018/19 - Round 15
Saturday, February 16, 2019
KO: 2:30pm (Irish time)
Stadio Zaffanella, Viadana

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)
AR1: Marius Mitrea (FIR)
AR2: Jason Morris (WRU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
Live on Premier Sports 2, DAZN, eir sport 1

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