Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
# Hammering
Leavy makes strong Leinster return as two-try hooker Sheehan impresses
Leo Cullen’s men hammered a poor Zebre side at the RDS, scoring nine tries in total.

Leinster 63

Zebre 8

A FACILE NINE-try victory for Leinster against a dire Zebre outfit could have been simply remembered for the return of Ireland international Dan Leavy after 19 months out of action due to a complex knee injury.

The openside flanker got almost half an hour off the bench for Leo Cullen’s side as they made easy work of sending Zebre home with their tails between their legs.

dan-leavy Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Leavy made his return from injury for Leinster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Leavy’s journey back to his very best is only beginning but it was fantastic news for Leinster and Ireland to see him come through his return seemingly unscathed having delivered a few very strong touches and nearly scored a late try.

But this bonus-point victory was also notable for the impressive 52-minute shift from debutant hooker Dan Sheehan, with the 22-year-old named man of the match after scoring two tries and providing the scoring pass for Dave Kearney’s effort on the wing’s 150th Leinster cap.

At 6ft 3ins and 110kg, Sheehan is a big unit for a hooker but he showed his clever skillset along with his power and pace around the pitch. He is very much one to watch.

21-year-old Liam Turner had an excellent game at outside centre on his senior Leinster debut, while fellow academy man Michael Silvester won his first cap off the bench and the on-loan prop Ciaran Parker scored a debut try after being introduced.

Fullback Jimmy O’Brien was superb throughout with his kicking game, darting runs and even a jackal turnover, while number eight and captain Rhys Ruddock continued his impressively dynamic form. The 29-year-old appears to be in superb condition.

dan-sheehan-with-tommaso-boni Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheehan was man of the match for Leinster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

With 21-year-old out-half Harry Byrne calmly slotting all nine of his conversion attempts – a new Guinness Pro14 record – Leinster were almost totally dominant as the impressive Tommy O’Brien grabbed a brace, while Michael Bent, Scott Penny, and Josh Murphy also dotted down.

Zebre’s tough night started with losing former Leinster lock Ian Nagle to a head injury and Michael Bradley’s men had nothing to offer aside from one sweeping second-half try. 

After a scrappy opening stanza, Leinster moved into the lead in the 13th minute as tighthead prop Bent forced his way over from close-range with Devin Toner and Ruddock latching onto his carry. 

An outstanding touch-finding kick from Jimmy O’Brien soon left Zebre with a lineout eight metres from their tryline and they duly overthrew for Leinster hooker Sheehan to gleefully gather and surge over for the second score. 

After Zebre lock Leonard Krumov appeared to be very lucky only to be penalised for having his hand close to Ross Molony’s eye during a maul defence, Leinster struck clinically with a clever lineout play that saw Sheehan looping around the back of the lineout after his throw and then skillfully passing back inside for Kearney to cross.

tommy-obrien-runs-in-a-try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Right wing Tommy O'Brien scored Leinster's bonus-point try. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Right wing Tommy O’Brien grabbed the bonus-point try before half-time as another sharp lineout attack involved Luke McGrath bouncing back to the right-hand side after a Ciarán Frawley carry and putting O’Brien away with a switch pass. 

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With Byrne flawless off the tee and Zebre having only a penalty to show for their first-half effort, the home side led 28-3 at the break and it took just 90 seconds of the restart for Leinster to resume their try-scoring as Sheehan powered over at the end of irrepressible attack in which Jimmy O’Brien made important metres.

Blindside flanker Murphy was next to dot down as he barged over from a few metres out just after some dancing footwork from Frawley carrying off a lineout platform, with debutant tighthead Parker surging over soon after following a calamitous exit failure by the Italians.

Zebre finally mustered a response with a brilliant length-of-the-field try finished by fullback Michelangelo Biondelli but Leinster promptly scored a beauty of their own as Jimmy O’Brien, Leavy and Kearney combined fluidly to send Tommy O’Brien over. 

Flanker Penny broke away for Leinster’s ninth try in the closing minutes as Byrne kept up his unerring accuracy from the tee. 

There was very nearly a perfect ending to the game as Leavy chased hard upfield to force a Zebre error but the TMO review ruled out the possible score. Still, the Ireland international looked like a happy man being back in the mix.

Leinster scorers:

Tries: Michael Bent, Dan Sheehan [2], Dave Kearney, Tommy O’Brien [2], Josh Murphy, Ciaran Parker, Scott Penny

Conversions: Harry Byrne [9 from 9]

Zebre scorers:

Tries: Michelangelo Biondelli

Penalties: Paolo Pescetto [1 from 1]

LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Tommy O’Brien, Liam Turner, Ciarán Frawley (Michael Silvester ’66), Dave Kearney; Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath (Hugh O’Sullivan ’56); Peter Dooley (Michael Milne ’52), Dan Sheehan (James Tracy ’52), Michael Bent (Ciaran Parker ’52); Devin Toner (Jack Dunne ’56), Ross Molony; Josh Murphy (Scott Fardy ’71), Scott Penny, Rhys Ruddock (captain) (Dan Leavy ’52).

ZEBRE: Michelangelo Biondelli; Pierre Bruno, Tommaso Boni (captain), Enrico Lucchin, Jamie Elliot; Paolo Pescetto (Antonio Rizzi ’51), Nicolò Casillo (Joshua Renton ’51); Paolo Buonfiglio (Andrea Lovotti ’51), Marco Manfredi (Oliviero Fabiani ’51), Alexandru Tarus (Matteo Nocera ‘HT); Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle (Leonard Krumov ’1); Lorenzo Masselli, Renato Giammarioli, Jimmy Tuivaiti (Samuele Ortis ’22).

Replacements Junior Lalofi.

Referee: Craig Evans [WRU].

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