Leo Cullen’s Leinster side travel to the Stadio Monigo on Sunday to face Benetton Treviso, with an eye firmly on leaders Munster and second-place Ospreys as Guinness PRO12 action returns this weekend.
Team news (Benetton Treviso): Promising young winger Luca Sperandio starts for Treviso, with Irish-born Ian McKinley at No. 10 alongside Tito Tebaldi and top try-scorer Dean Budd pulling on the No. 7 jersey for what will be an intriguing battle with opposite man Dan Leavy.
Tommaso Iannone is a threat at 13, while Test centre Alberto Sgarbi will provide a steadying hand at inside centre against Noel Reid and Rory O’Loughlin.
Team news (Leinster): Joey Carbery makes his Guinness PRO12 return for Leinster, starting on the bench as Cullen is able to name an all-action back line to take on the Italians.
Ross Byrne starts at No. 10, flyer O’Loughlin starts at 13, with Adam Byrne and the returning Dave Kearney on the wings.
Up front, Richard Strauss skipper Leinster for the first time, with Leavy and Jack Conan forming an imposing scavenging pair at openside and No. 8.
Standout fly-half Carbery has gone from relative unknown to Ireland cap this season and after an ankle injury sustained against Northamtpton Saints in the European Rugby Champions Cup, he’s set to make his comeback from the bench against Treviso.
“Joey is just back into the fold, and is going really, really well. He’s started training back, and is looking in good shape,” Girvan Dempsey said.
“He just wants to get back on the field. He realises that his first stepping stone is to try and get into the Leinster squad, get game-time under his belt, and worry about higher honours further down the line.”
Key battle: Robert Barbieri v Jack Conan
Italy international Robert Barbieri and Conan both bring huge power from the base of the scrum and are equally adept at having an influence at the breakdown.
Conan grabbed a hat-trick against Montpellier in Europe and has been in excellent form for Cullen’s side, while Barbieri has had an injury disrupted year and will be looking to lay down a marker against a Leinster side without several key players on RBS 6 Nations duty.
Key stat: The Leinstermen have not lost on a visit to Italy since going down 13-29 in Treviso in September 2010.
Did you know?
The two sides have met on thirteen previous occasions in the Guinness PRO12 with Treviso’s only win being on their first clash at Stadio Monigo in round 3 of 2010/11, although the two sides did play out a 24-all draw in Italy in November 2014.
Benetton Treviso: 15 David Odiete, 14 Andrea Pratichetti, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Ian McKinley, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Dean Budd, 6 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Filippo Gerosa, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Federico Zani
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Matteo Zanusso, 19 Francesco Minto, 20 Guglielmo Zanini, 21 Enrico Francescato, 22 Michael Tagicakibau, 23 Andrea Buondonno
Coach: Kieran Crowley
Leinster: 15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Rory O’Loughlin, 12. Noel Reid, 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park,1. Peter Dooley, 2. Richardt Strauss, 3. Michael Bent, 4. Mick Kearney, 5. Ian Nagle, 6. Dominic Ryan,7. Dan Leavy, 8. Jack Conan
Replacements: 16. Bryan Byrne, 17. Andrew Porter, 18. Mike Ross,19. Ross Molony, 20. Peadar Timmins, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Joey Carbery, 23. Barry Daly (5)Benetton Treviso:
Top points scorer: 66 – Tommaso Allan
Top try scorer: 4 – Dean Budd
Top points scorer: 78 – Isa Nacewa
Top try scorer: 5 – Adam Byrne
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Treviso won 1, Leinster won 11 with 1 game drawn.
At Stadio Monigo, 1.30pm local time (12.30pm Ireland & UK)
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU, 3rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (WRU), Andrea Spadoni (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Stefano Marrama (FIR)
The returning Dave Kearney went over for a try double as Leinster cruised to a 40-14 win over Benetton Treviso at Stadio Monigo to close the gap on the Guinness PRO12 top two.
Kearney was starting his first game since last October when he injured his ankle against Cardiff Blues and the winger showed that his finishing instinct has not be affected by the lay-off.
Rory O’Loughlin crossed for the opening score in the opening two minutes before Kearney’s double, and efforts from Adam Byrne, Joey Carbery – also returning from injury – and Bryan Byrne helped the Leinstermen move within three points of second-place Ospreys.
Treviso got on the scoreboard through No.8 Robert Barbieri and winger Andrea Pratichetti but they still slipped to a 12th defeat in the 14 meetings between the sides.
With 11 players away on international duty, Treviso’s much-changed line-up could not have asked for a worse start as they conceded a try with less than two minutes played – Ross Byrne cleverly dinking over the top following a line-out for O’Loughlin to collect and slide over.
Byrne duly added the extras before Leinster demonstrated their defensive capabilities as Mick Kearney and Jamison Gibson-Park both produced huge tackles in their own 22 to deny the Italians.
Treviso continued to pressure and Byrne was forced to produce a try-saving tackle on Pratichetti midway through the first half.
But the Italians were made to pay for not converting their territorial dominance into points as Dominic Ryan made an initial break in midfield and the ball was worked wide for Dave Kearney to score – Byrne adding the extras.
And 14-0 became 21-0 shortly after as Kearney again went over in the corner and Byrne stayed perfect from the tee.
To their credit, Treviso got on the board before half-time as Barbieri barrelled his way across the line to narrow the deficit to 14 points at the break.
A scrappy start to the second period was ended on 50 minutes as Adam Byrne notched the bonus-point try, when a solid scrum set the platform for the ball to be spread through the hands and the 22-year-old finished the move. Ross Byrne again nailed the tricky, touchline conversion for a 28-7 lead.
Pratichetti dotted down for a nicely-worked try shortly after but visiting fly-half Carbery, making his return from the injury sustained in Europe against Northampton Saints, had an instant impact after coming off the bench as he burrowed over the whitewash with 15 minutes left.
And there was still time for Bryan Byrne to grab a sixth try for Leinster as he benefitted from an inexorable driving maul to complete a 40-14 triumph that narrowed the gap on Guinness PRO12 table-toppers Munster to four points.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final