The Guinness PRO14 is serving up a full menu of matches in Round 15 with every team involved in the action including Zebre and Leinster – who will kick off Saturday’s schedule.
Defending champions Leinster will be looking to consolidate their position at the top of Conference B with victory against the Italian outfit.
What’s at Stake?
It will be the first time that Zebre have ever played a home game outside of Parma when they host Leinster at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella in Viadana.
Leinster have won all 11 meetings between two sides and currently sit at the top of Conference B with a 21-point lead over their nearest rivals Benetton.
Meanwhile, Zebre are languishing at the bottom of Conference A with a 19-point gap to sixth-placed Toyota Cheetahs and are without a win in the competition since October.
Team News (Zebre)
Zebre will be without Tommaso Castello, Andrea Lovotti, Edoardo Padovani, Guglielmo Palazzani and David Sisi who are all away with Italy for the Guinness Six Nations.
To make matters worse winger, Mattia Bellini and Johan Meyer are among seven players also ruled out with injury.
Meanwhile lock George Biagi will enter the pitch before all his teammates and opponents to receive applause after reaching the 100-cap milestone in the last official game played by Zebre against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein three weeks ago.
Team News (Leinster)
Andrew Porter returns from international duty to complete the Leinster front row alongside Jack McGrath and James Tracy.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne team up in the half-backs, Conor O’Brien and Rory O’Loughlin make-up the centre combination, and Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and Barry Daly form the back-three while academy player Jack Dunne is in line to make his debut if called on from the bench.
LINE UP: Here is your 23-man squad to represent Leinster against @ZebreRugby tomorrow in the #GuinnessPRO14.@Scottfardy captains the side with Jack Dunne in line to make his senior debut from the bench.#ZEBvLEI #JoinTheRoar pic.twitter.com/1n8RkLVKaz
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) February 15, 2019
Leinster lock Ross Molony said: “You’re always going to get your opportunities. I’ve been quite happy with how this season has gone and the games that I’ve been playing.
“I’ve felt I’ve contributed well so it’s never going to be at a dead end. You can’t think like that or else you won’t end up going anywhere.
“Towards the end of last season, it became frustrating. It can naturally annoy you, getting left out of the 23 at times.
“You take it on the chin and look to see what you can do better. It’s in nobody else’s control barring your own.”
Key Battle: Carlo Canna vs Ross Byrne
Zebre’s 26-year-old fly-half Carlo Canna is his side’s top point-scorer so far this season, and the team’s danger man.
Canna knocked over all four of his conversion attempts last time he took to the field in the Guinness PRO14 as his team were beaten 61-28 by Toyota Cheetahs.
Ross Byrne will be his opposite man this weekend and like Canna, has scored the most points for his team this season.
Canna will need to on top of his game if he to outplay his counterpart and set the table for the Zebre backs to take control of the game.
Key stat: Leinster have lost only once to an Italian side since September 2010: 17-15 at home to Benetton last April.
— Zebre Rugby 🦓 (@ZebreRugby) February 15, 2019
Did you know? Zebre Rugby have not won since beating Enisei home and away in the European Challenge Cup in December, whilst their most recent victory in the Guinness PRO14 was at home to Edinburgh at the end of October.
Zebre: Francois Brummer, Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, James Elliott, Carlo Canna, Joshua Renton; Daniele Rimpelli, Oliviero Fabiani, Giosué Zilocchi, Samuele Ortis, George Biagi (C), Maxime Mbandà, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Giovanni Licata
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Danilo Fischetti, Dario Chistolini, Apisai Tauyavuca, James Brown, Riccardo Raffaele, Paula Balekana, Nicolas De Battista
Leinster: Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Conor O’Brien, Barry Daly, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Scott Fardy (C), Josh Murphy, Max Deegan, Caelan Doris
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Mick Kearney, Jack Dunne, Hugh O’Sullivan, Noel Reid, Jimmy O’Brien
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Marius Mitrea (FIR), Jason Morris (WRU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
Conor O’Brien crossed five minutes from time as Leinster finally killed off a ferocious comeback from Zebre to claim a 40-24 victory in Viadana.
When the Guinness PRO14 champions led 21-0 after 22 minutes they looked on course for the simplest of victories.
But the Italian side fought back with three tries before half-time, adding another in the second half to make it a one-score game heading into the final ten minutes.
That was when O’Brien popped up on the left, collecting the ball from Noel Reid to dot down in the corner before Max Deegan completed his double with the final play.
Leinster had burst out of the blocks with a try from Deegan after just seven minutes. The flanker was the man in control as a rolling maul powered over.
Ross Byrne converted and did the same again when Dave Kearney scored the second. It came from brilliant build-up play as the ball went through the backs to give the full-back a clear run to the line.
Byrne then got in on the act himself, dancing through for try number three after some huge pressure from the Leinster forwards to make it 21-0.
Zebre looked shell-shocked but they responded with some territory for the first time, despite the loss of Jimmy Tuivaiti to the sin-bin.
That pressure eventually told, with Giovanni Licata doing brilliantly to offload to Francois Brummer for the try.
They were in again three minutes later as Jamie Elliott went over from long range, reacting fastest to a loose ball in midfield before putting on the after-burners.
They had another by half-time, Gabriele di Giulio crossing in the corner as he slipped out of the tackle of Kearney to get over.
Zebre’s comeback was founded on a powerful scrum, with one notable shove making a real statement as young loosehead prop Daniele Rimpelli stood out.
Trailing 21-19 at the break, Zebre conceded early in the second half as Scott Fardy crossed on the left after the Leinster forwards had sucked in the Zebre defence.
However the Italians hit back once again, Brummer scoring his second after a wide pass from Carlo Canna, again the home side having gone through the phases to create the space.
Zebre gave it everything in the bid for a win, turning down two shots at goal late on to kick to the corner, but they could not find a way over.
Instead it was Leinster who got back into Zebre territory to set up the O’Brien try before Deegan sealed the win at the death from close range.
The victory extends Leinster’s lead at the top of Conference B as they look to defend the title they won at the Aviva Stadium a year ago.