Sunday, March 14, 2021

Zebre-31 Leinster-48

FROM START TO FINISH


As you can see by the scoreline there are loads of tries for me to harp on and trust me I will get to those, but in an age when we're denied the chance to watch from the stands as our favourite teams do their thing, we're all getting a lot more critical when it comes to the voices relaying the action by way of the broadcaster so I'd like to start with a word or two on that.

I agreed with all those commenting on how well Reggie Corrigan and Bernard Jackman were doing holding the eir Sport microphone for this match but I'd like to add some clarification here. My approval is not meant to diss anyone who has done the job before, nor does it imply that only they should be used even when the match is an interpro.

They just work well together, they are both Leinster legends who know both the province and the game really well, and they clearly work well together. With the pun related to their respective positions fully intended, I thought they provided a great "1,2 punch" to the comms and I hope to hear from them again in future.

Right, now to the match. Definitely what I expected on our side of the scoreboard, not so much on our opponents'. There were defensive lapses which certainly would not be forgiven in the knockout matches we have waiting for us from the end of this month, but I'm sure most Leinster fans will agree this was a matchday 23 full of young talent all of whom will be willing to learn from their mistakes going forward.

So with Ireland also in action this weekend and free time at a premium here at Harpin Manor, I'll be doing one of those "trym-line" writeups where I describe each score as I rewatch.

2m, 7m Rizzi penalties 6-0

Pretty much every week Leinster are conceding the first score and I still contend this is the result of our opposition coaches having their team extremely well prepared come kickoff time. However another common feature of this early points is that they come before we have had a decent spell of possession and once that happens we generally see how things are going. This match was no exception.

9m Dan Sheehan try (Harry Byrne conversion) 6-7

A double dose of restart quality in hang time by Harry Byrne and kick chase by Cian Kelleher meant Zebre's clearance only found Max O'Reilly who has a unique running style and looks good on his run backs.

Once on the front foot our forwards made Luke McGrath's task very easy with strong runs breaking the gainline every time taking the ball at pace every time. Murphy, Soroka, Penny and Dunne were all involved getting us towards the line until Dan Sheehan provided the first of many quality finishes we enjoyed in this match. Just have a go at falling foward while still reaching out and extending a rugby ball out to plant it on the line without dropping it.

14m Harry Byrne penalty 6-10
20m Alex Soroka yellow card

I can hear the Ulster fans shouting as I type this, but I do think this was the right call. If Andrew Warwick's first contact with Ed Byrne was on his shoulder last weekend then you'll just have to believe me when I say I'd be just as vocal against a red card. But in this case it's clear from one angle in particular that young Soroka, making his first start and no doubt keen to impress, tries to stand up in the tackle against their prop Matteo Nocera and was very lucky not to connect higher, yet being very lucky isn't enough for any more than a yellow so the officials got it right.

21m Rizzi penalty 9-10
26m Cian Kelleher try (Harry Byrne conversion) 9-17

An overthrown Zebre dart at halfway got our forwards back on the front foot and it wasn't long before we were back in their 22 even while a man down. A knockon close to the line gave them a chance to clear but they weren't able to deal with our second wave as yet more relentless running up the middle put us in position to strike and this time the backs did the finishing with first Harry Byrne and then Rory O'Loughlin timing their passes to perfection allowing Kelleher to go over.

33m Rizzi penalty 12-17
34m Luke McGrath try (Harry Byrne conversion) 12-24

The silly penalties were still be shipped by our tacklers down the other end, but each time we were able to respond and with Harry's restarts coming down with snow on them, our chasers were able to put them under maximum pressure each time.

On this occasion the home side were able to recover the ball and set up an exit kick but their halfback pairing of Renton and Rizzi took a fraction too long combining to clear and the kick was charged down by the Leinster skipper before he was able to brilliantly improvise a dot down before it went over the end line.

38m Dave Kearney BP try (Harry Byrne conversion) 12-31

Zebre had yet another chance to kick three points before the break but the margin was starting to get away from them so Renton took a quick tap only for the momentum to fizzle away moments later before Kelleher picked up a loose ball and sprinted into their territory.

Once back on the front foot our play was too much for their scrambling and a fine long pass from O'Loughlin found Kearney in space on the left wing. He had a lot to do yet he was able to both fend off Masselli and evade the challenge of Leavasa to get the ball over to lock up the bonus point before the break.

47m D'Onorfio try (Rizzi conversion) 19-31

Hugh O'Sullivan started the second half in place of McGrath so hopefully that wasn't for anything serious. The young scrum half made a slight error after about five minutes when he knocked on in his own half. Zebre had a penalty advantage coming from the scrum but Renton was keen to keep going and this time he managed to work his side deep into our 22.

They were determined to give us a tase of our own medicine by pummelling our tryline and with another couple of penalty advantages coming, their centre Jamie Elliott's final pass to his winger Giovanni D'Onofrio was even more impressive than O'Loughlin's earlier and the finish was relatively simple. A well constructed score by Michael Bradley's men.

51m Pierre Bruno yellow card
52m Dan Sheehan try (2) 19-36

All hopes of a comeback were erased after Jimmy O'Brien fired a pass towards Josh Murphy on the touchline. The back rower had O'Loughlin outside him and thus there was every chance a try could result but Pierre Bruno took a gamble with an outstretched arm and when the ball hit the turf from his hand there could only be a yellow as a result.

It was possibly in penalty try territory but that would have been harsh. Still, from the penalty put to the corner Dan Sheehan throw to Ross Molony before cradling the ball under his arm at the back of the maul which charged towards the line allowing the hooker to fall over for his second try.

55m Dave Kearney try (2) (Hugh O'Sullivan conversion) 19-43

Sheehan continuted to impress and it was his aggressive counter rucking that quickly won the ball back for Leinster at halfway and a strong carry by Jack Dunne got us deep into their territory.

Now it was time for the backs to shine and Harry Byrne looked keen to show off his long passes both left and right dragging Zebre defenders all over the place until his final one got to O'Loughlin who had Kearney outside him and again, there were multiple opponents in his way but again, he found the strength, speed and agility to nab his second.

Kudos as well to O'Sullivan for a fine conversion here to atone for the earlier knock on.

65m Dave Kearney try (3) 19-48

More aggressive Leinster defending around the halfway line won us a penalty courtesy of Scott Penny's jackling. Harry Byrne was all set to dispatch the ball towards one touchline when suddnly he tapped and went towards the other instead.

Jamie Osborne and Dave Kearney were wide to the plan - the Zebre defenders most certainly wouldn't, although this was probably the most difficult finish for the veteran Leinster winger yet he made it look just as easy to complete his amazing hat-trick.

Rory O'Loughlin got Player of the Match, probably for so many quality assists, but while I'm not always a fan of handing the gong to the guy who got the most tries, the sheer brilliance in applying the final touch each time probably meant Kearney The Younger should have gotten it, with honourable mentions to Sheehan, Dunne, Byrne and Penny as well.

74m Bello try (Rizzi conversion) 26-48
80+2m Taddia try 31-48

These final two tries for the home side are what seperate the Leinster fans who want to be fans from the ones who want to be coaches.

Like I said earlier, the lads will no doubt have the concession of 12 last points and there were definitely issues there, like the ease with which both Bello and Taddia peeled off mauls to score from short range lineouts.

But you could also argue that it was a credit to the Italian side for persevering right to the end, especially for the final try which came despite Jamie Osborne kicking deep into their 22 in the 80th minute only for them to escape courtesy of a cheeky chip by Rizzi which he caught himself to put his side back on the attack.

(UPDATE - this article was written on the Saturday, and with it being a Six Nations weekend the chances are this match was going to be well forgotten by the Monday, but check out this extra bit of information regarding those two late Zebre tries that came to light courtesy of an eagle-eyed Leinster megafan!)

CONCLUSION

I'd like to see a similar matchday 23 line out against Ospreys this coming Friday as I'm sure that when they look back at the video on Monday they will all be itching to get back out there to play to a higher standard especially without the ball.

And when it comes to our opposition, every time an Irish side dominates an Italian one, the same questions are raised about their eligibility in the competition but I have to say at this stage, those questions are becoming more tiresome than the thrashings.

During the week the details of the blockbuster deal with CVC were announced and it really looks like the Italians are going to remain at the top table for the foreseeable future so we might as well get used to it. JLP

*****
We normally do a separate post featuring online comments from the full time whistle but due to the quick turnaround for the writeup we'll add a few here instead - many thanks to all who contributed as always!
Conor Cronin I'm happy out with that. Leinster missing big names run riot over Zebre missing most of theirs. Soft penalties and soft tries conceded were outdone by enthusiasm, strong attack and mostly very good defense. A couple of young lads really looking to be included in knockout games, thought Penney, sheehan and o Loughlin were all excellent, kearney took his tries well.


Paul Smith Routine enough win and a great runout for some of the younger guys. Dave Kearney showing why he's still one of the best finishers in the game, Harry Byrne running the show, Scott Penny getting better and better every week, Dan Sheeran superb and Rory O'Loughlin also shone. Some downsides too, a lot of penalties given away, the scores concedesd were very soft too but at the end if the day its a 7 try BP on the road and a good way to start a weekend for a Leinster fan.


Martin Loughrey Too many points shipped. I felt that the ref. was very quick to give penalties against us though. He blew a couple of times for holding on within a spilt second of a player hitting the deck and also for crawling after the tackle when players were just turning to get the ball back. Full credit to Zebre they never gave in even when they were well beat. I like that although the throw in to their last line-out looked crooked they went on to score their last try. Maybe it was the back and forth in Italian from the officials that annoyed me but I did feel there was bias on the pitch. At the end of it, a BP win on the road is never a bad thing. Feeling put out after a result like that is a measure of how spoiled we are by our team!!


Gav Heg So honestly can we keep all these youngsters? Like Sheehan and Kelleher are both very young and talented battling for the same jersey, both blue and green eventually, Surely they'd be tempted to move like carbery to get a starting spot?


Peter Tracey (reply to Gav Heg) we’ve managed to keep Furlong and Porter so hopefully they will stay and push each other on. Cronin looks to be gone at the end of season and Tracy will be there for another 2 or 3 seasons.


Alan Murphy Very difficult to draw any conclusions from that game. Crap jersey, misty night, great pitch and good to hear Reggie again.


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