LUKE FITZGERALD WAS cruelly denied his rightful place in Ireland’s Six Nations squad but he reminded rugby fans of his undoubted talent in a turgid home win over Zebre. The winger, who missed the Six Nations with a niggling abdominal complaint, lit up the RDS with two second-half tries and a late, rolling maul led to a Jordi Murphy try to clinch the try-scoring bonus point.
Matt O’Connor’s men led the Italians at the break but the opening 40 minutes were less than pretty. Penalties have streamed in for the league leaders but Ian Madigan, playing his 100th game for the Blues, has not packed his kicking boots this evening.
Madigan was successful with his first pop at goal but has missed relatively simple penalty and conversion attempts. Leinster’s stand-out players have been Jordi Murphy and winger Luke Fitzgerald, who is making a comeback from a niggling abdominal injury.
Zebre grew in confidence as the half progressed but they were caught on the counter-attack by Leinster on 33 minutes and infiltrated down their right flank. A Madigan chip through had Leinster on the front foot and, following good work from the Blues forwards, Noel Reid powered through and stretched to dot down.
Leinster were slightly better after the break as they built the phases and recycled the ball with more urgency. Zebre were exposed out wide twice in the space of 15 minutes as Fitzgerald dived over in the left-hand corner. The winger copped two late blows to the head after his scores and was wisely removed by O’Connor.
Zebre looked as if they would deny the home side the extra point but Leinster, urged on by captain Leo Cullen, claimed an Aaron Dundon line-out and heaved their maul over the line. Murphy, who was reunited with his lost Six Nations medal earlier in the week, was the man in possession at the back and he crashed over. For Leinster fans, and ahead of next week’s anticipated tie with Munster, it was a score worth waiting for.
Leinster: Zane Kirchner; Darragh Fanning, Fergus McFadden, Noel Reid (Jimmy Gopperth), Luke Fitzgerald (Brendan Macken); Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss (Eoin Reddan); Michael Bent, Richardt Strauss (Aaron Dundon), Tadhg Furlong (Marty Moore [Jack O'Connell]); Leo Cullen (capt.), Mike McCarthy (Tom Denton); Kevin McLaughlin (Shane Jennings), Dominic Ryan, Jordi Murphy.