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Kearney hat-trick sets Leinster on their way to 17-point win over Zebre

Leo Cullen’s side were made to fight against the spirited Italians but ran in seven tries to win 48-31 in Parma this evening.

Dan Sheehan scores a try for Leinster.
Dan Sheehan scores a try for Leinster.
Image: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO

Zebre 31

Leinster 48

SO MUCH FOR the idea that it was time to take the foot off the gas. Having already qualified for the Guinness Pro14 final with two games to spare, this really was nothing more than a box-ticking exercise for Leinster.

Except when you are in a club challenging for success on two fronts, your toughest opponent often ends up being the guy sitting next to you in the dressing room. In other words, if the XV who lined up in Parma tonight wanted to have any chance of featuring in this month’s decider against Munster, then they needed to deliver the goods tonight. Otherwise, Leo Cullen simply had to look elsewhere.

So Leinster went about their business in a typically ruthless manner. Zebre, missing 15 players on international duty, and another three due to concussion protocols, were taken apart by the visiting attack. By half-time, Leinster had the bonus point wrapped up and had given a debut to the latest Sean O’Brien to appear on the Irish rugby scene.

His night was upstaged by Dave Kearney, though. The Ireland winger – a regular starter when Ireland won the 2014 Six Nations – has been in superb form this season, and he delivered again here, getting tries in the 37th, 54th and 64th minutes to remind everyone that he has an international future not just a past.

Zebre didn’t know where to turn. Despite starting well, taking a 6-0 lead courtesy of two penalties from Antonio Rizzi, they surrendered their advantage by the ninth minute and were scratching their heads by the time the clock ticked towards the 37th. By then, Leinster were out of sight.

First to cross for the defending champions was Dan Sheehan, their young hooker, who didn’t waste any time in sizing up his various options on eight minutes, when he saw a gap in front of him at the base of a ruck, picked up before diving for the line. 

With that, Leinster were on their way, Harry Byrne converting to give them a 7-6 lead which was stretched to 10-6 by the 13th minute, Byrne adding a penalty to the Leinster total.

To be fair, at no stage did Zebre ever give in. Even when Leinster put a couple of scoring sequences together, they always fought back, Rizzi scoring penalties in the 19th and 32nd minutes, to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Their problem was that Leinster kept it ticking over themselves – Cian Kelleher finishing off a fine move, one that inevitably involved Luke McGrath and Byrne but which was really made by Rory O’Loughlin who ran a smart line before delivering an even better pass at the appropriate moment: Kelleher ran it in.

cian-kelleher-scores-a-try Kelleher crosses for Leinster's second try. Source: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO

The tone was set. Zebre kept battling but Leinster kept scoring. Even after Rizzi’s fourth penalty made it a five-point game, you just knew the onslaught would continue.

And so it proved, McGrath blocking Rizzi’s attempted clearance on 33 minutes, before he followed up his good work to touch down for the third try. Byrne’s conversion made it 24-12 and within four minutes it was 31-12, Kearney getting his first try of the evening, Byrne converting.

At this stage, you feared a rout. Instead, Zebre kept things respectable, a strong scrum allowing Josh Rentan break down the right wing before his progress was temporarily halted. Zebre sensed their chance, though. And eventually they took it, their patience rewarded when Jamie Elliott spun the ball wide for Giovanni D’Onofrio to touch down.

Rizzi converted, the scoreboard moved to 31-19 and with 34 minutes still to play, theoretically Zebre still had a chance.

In reality, though, they didn’t.

Not when Leinster – Kearney and Sheehan especially – were in this mood. First the hooker got his second try when he got on the end of a 51st minute maul to touch down.

Then came the Dave Kearney show as he got Leinster’s sixth and seventh tries to complete his hat-trick, making it 48-19. The winger now has 51 tries in Leinster’s colours, only four players – Shane Horgan, Gordan D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll and Denis Hickie – have more.

By this stage a second debutant, Tim Corkery, had stepped off the bench. Leinster were motoring nicely but Zebre showed real ambition in the final ten minutes and got two tries, replacements Bello and Niccolò Taddia getting one apiece as Leinster finished with 14 men, after Kelleher went off with an injury, Leinster having already used all their replacements.

Scorers

Zebre

Try: D’Onofrio, Bello, Taddia

Conversion: Rizzi (2)

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Penalties: Rizzi (4)

Leinster

Tries: Sheehan 2, Kelleher, McGrath, Kearney 3,

Conversions: Byrne (4) O’Sullivan (1)

Penalties: Byrne

Zebre: Gabriele Di Giulio; Pierre Bruno (yellow card ’50), Jamie Elliott (Guglielmo Palazzani ‘39-40), Enrico Lucchin, Giovanni D’Onofrio (Guglielmo Palazzani ‘55); Antonio Rizzi, Joshua Renton (Nicolò Casilio ‘62); Paolo Buonfiglio (Bello ‘65), Massimo Ceciliani (Niccolò Taddia ‘60), Matteo Nocera (Alexandru Tarus ‘55); Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle (Leonard Krumov ’57); Iacopo Bianchi (Samuele Ortis ’57), Potu Junior Leavasa, Renato Giammarioli (Lorenzo Masselli ‘3). 

Leinster: Max O’Reilly, Cian Kelleher, Jimmy O’Brien (Jamie Osborne ’52), Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney, Harry Byrne (Tim Corkery ‘65), Luke McGrath (Hugh O’Sullivan ‘40), Peter Dooley (Marcus Hanan ‘55), Dan Sheehan (James Tracy ‘55), Thomas Clarkson (Michael Bent ‘55), Ross Molony, Jack Dunne, Josh Murphy, Scott Penny (Sean O’Brien ’39-40 – Devin Toner ’65), Alex Soroka (yellow card ’19 – Sean O’Brien 48).

 

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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