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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Pro12: Sexton provides the spark as Leinster maul ‘zebras’

The returning outhalf was at the centre of the Blues’ best moves against Zebre.

Jonathan Sexton: Back in blue.
Jonathan Sexton: Back in blue.
Image: ©INPHO/Giuseppe Fama

Zebre 22-41 Leinster

JONATHAN SEXTON SHOWED Leinster and Ireland fans what they have been missing as he called the shots during a comfortable league win in Italy.

The outhalf, who has been out of action for two months with separate hamstring and foot injuries, kicked 16 points and set up Fergus McFadden for a try.

The Blues needed to beat Zebre following wins for Pro12 pace-setters Ulster, Glasgow and Scarlets this weekend. They got off to a good start when Sexton slotted over a penalty in the third minute.

Three minutes later and the scores were level after Richardt Strauss handled the ball in the ruck while off his feet. Daniel Halangahu thumped over the penalty.

The game was barely six minutes old when John Cooney initiated an attack, and second-row Tom Denton raced clear up the right flank to score. Sexton added the extras.

The Top 14-bound outhalf then set McFadden free to dot down by the sticks. Sexton delayed his pass long enough to draw in two Italians before feeding McFadden for his third try of the season against Zebre.

Simoti Sinoti, so good his parents named him twice, broke free of a scattered Leinster defence on 25 minutes to enliven the contest. Halangahu coverted the Samoans’ try. The scores were level right on half-time as a Zebre lineout on the halfway line quickly led to a Halangahu try under the posts.

There was a bit of needle for Brian O’Driscoll during the half as Mauro Bergamasco dumped him, tip tackle style, on the turf and held the centre’s face on the ground for several seconds. The flanker has obviously not forgotten O’Driscoll’s stamping of Simone Favaro on his last trip to Italy.

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Bergamasco dumps O’Driscoll to the turf. (Credit: RaboDirect Pro12)

Joe Schmidt’s men were reenergised after the break and forced the concession of a 42nd minute penalty, which Sexton converted. The 10 then chipped up the line and a fortunate bounce saw the ball land in Isa Nacewa’s arms. The fullback passed to Fionn Carr to streak free and score under the posts.

On 57 minutes, Dominic Ryan went close to scoring the fourth, bonus point try but the TMO ruled it inconclusive. The flanker was not to be denied two minutes later and dotted down before Sexton kicked the conversion.

O’Driscoll, showing no ill effects from the Bergamasco tackle, took a quick-tap penalty and drew in two Zebre defenders before flicking a beautiful pass out to Nacewa, who crashed over in the corner. Sexton’s conversion was his last on-field action as he was replaced by Cathal Marsh.

Replacement hooker Carlo Festuccia convinced the TMO that he had touched down over the line, and under a pack of bodies, to give a touch of respectability to the scoreline. He was then yellow-carded for striking Isaac Boss and watched from the sidelines as Leinster closed out an away win to retake second position in the Pro12 table.

Match highlights here:

YouTube credit: RaboDirectPRO12

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Patrick McCarry

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