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Returning Sexton pulls the strings as ten-try Leinster steamroll hapless Zebre

Rory O’Loughlin scored a hat-trick as Leo Cullen’s side went level on points with Munster at the top of the Pro12.

Sexton congratulates Garry Ringrose on his second-half try.
Sexton congratulates Garry Ringrose on his second-half try.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Leinster 70

Zebre 6

– Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

JOHNNY SEXTON CAME through his much-anticipated return from injury unscathed as he guided Leinster to a stroll-in-the-park bonus-point victory over Zebre at the RDS on Friday evening.

As soon as the out-half’s name appeared on the team-sheet, this game was always going to take on an added layer of intrigue and Sexton showed no signs of rustiness as he made his first appearance since November.

Named as captain by Leo Cullen, the Ireland international was influential throughout and pulled the strings as the hosts ran in ten tries to record the most emphatic of victories.

Five points moves Leinster level with Munster at the summit of the Guinness Pro12, overtaking Ospreys into second with the Welsh side hosting Connacht tomorrow afternoon.

By the time Sexton was withdrawn after 55 minutes, Leinster had already pulled clear of the Italians, who were off the pace and atrocious in defence, before crowning the night with a late flurry.

The writing was on the wall for the visitors as early as the fourth minute as Sean O’Brien strolled into the corner and then Hayden Triggs, Luke McGrath and Cian Healy all crossed to seal the bonus point before the break.

Rory O’Loughlin continued his superb form with a hat-trick to add to the two tries he scored here against Ulster on New Year’s Eve, while man of the match Garry Ringrose helped himself to a second-half double.

Leinster team huddle after the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

At times, it was embarrassingly easy for the eastern province and the manner in which Zebre meekly rolled over leaves serious questions to be asked.

The result was never in question and it was all too predictable for large periods but at least the return of Sexton, and his exciting partnership with Luke McGrath in the half-back line, gave the 10,821 people here something to talk about.

After a period of uncertainty surrounding his fitness and seven weeks spent at the Santry Sports Clinic in an attempt to rectify his debilitating hamstring problems, it was good to see him back out there.

Relishing the added responsibility of the captaincy, he orchestrated proceedings and barked out orders from the off; poor James Tracy and Adam Byrne were twice on the receiving end for not meeting his standards.

Sexton looked sharp throughout and from the tee kicked 12 points before his withdrawal shortly into the second half; he couldn’t have picked an easier game to ease himself back into competitive rugby in.

Zebre were so disorganised in defence and every time Leinster got ball in hand, they looked like finding a gap and exploiting the Italians’ soft centre.

It was only a matter of minutes before they did. Robbie Henshaw and Ringrose initially combined to create the opening and McGrath’s looping pass right fed O’Brien to run into the corner.

Johnny Sexton kicks a conversion Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton took his time over the conversion but struck it sweetly and Leinster were up and running. From there, it was a mere formality.


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After winning a scrum penalty in midfield, Sexton kicked for the corner and from the resulting maul, Triggs powered over from close range.

Healy got in on the act shortly after, although the referee required the assistance of the TMO to confirm the grounding, before McGrath finished off a fine move between he and Zane Kirchner after Sexton’s clever restart.

Edoardo Padovani had knocked over two penalties at the other end but this was arguably the worst performance from a side in the history of the Pro12.

Leinster’s fifth try can be used as persuasive evidence for that argument. McGrath collected at the base of the scrum, ran down the vacant blindside channel and presented O’Loughlin with the first of his three tries on a plate.

The half-time minis would have done a better job in defending the set-piece.

The onslaught continued after the break as Ringrose pierced through and although there was a lull in proceedings as both sides made a flurry of changes, Leinster finished strongly to ensure a record win for the province in this competition.

Rory O’Loughlin scores a try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ringrose, two more from O’Loughlin and a final flourish from Jamie Heaslip sent the home fans happy and looking forward to the visit of Montpellier next week with great encouragement.

That said, Leinster may just be presented with a slightly stiffer challenge.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Sean O’Brien, Hayden Triggs, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Rory O’Loughlin (3), Garry Ringrose (2), Jamie Heaslip.
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [6 from 6], Ross Byrne [4 from 4].
Zebre scorers:
Penalties: Edoardo Padovani [2 from 2]

LEINSTER: 15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Rory O’Loughlin, 10. Johnny Sexton (captain) (Ross Byrne 55′), 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 55′) 1. Cian Healy (Jack McGrath 47′) 2. James Tracy (Sean Cronin 47′), 3. Michael Bent (Tadhg Furlong 48′) 4. Devin Toner, 5. Hayden Triggs (Rhys Ruddock 47′), 6. Dan Leavy (Jamie Heaslip 60′), 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Jack Conan.

ZEBRE: 15. Kurt Baker, 14. Mattia Bellini, 13. Matteo Pratichetti, 12. Tommaso Castello, 11. Lloyd Greef (Guglielmo Palazzani 54′) 10. Edoardo Padovani (Serafin Bordoli 62′) 9. Marcello Violi; 1. Andrea Lovotti (Andrea De Marchi 65′), 2. Tommaso D’Apice (Carlo Festuccia 40′) 3. Pietro Ceccarelli (Guillermo Roan 59′) 4. Gideon Koegelenberg (Josh Furno 50′), 5. George Biagi, 6. Derick Minnie (Maxime Mbanda 44′) 7. Federico Ruzza, 8. Dries van Schalkwyk.

Replacements not used: 22. Giovanbattista Venditti.

Referee: Dan Jones [WRU].

Attendance: 10,821.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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