Joe Schmidt’s Leinster side will have a couple of obvious aims when they host Zebre for the first time in the RaboDirect PRO12 – getting a result to keep themselves in the top four of the league and secondly, building momentum for next week’s Heineken Cup trip to Clermont-Ferrand.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 1
LEINSTER (5th) v ZEBRE (12th), the RDS, 6pm (live RTÉ Two)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Zebre in Saturday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash at the RDS has been named.
Leinster will welcome back a number of players from international duty including Gordon D’Arcy, who is set to make his 211th appearance for the province and will start at outside centre, while Eoin Reddan will partner Jonathan Sexton at half-back.
Fergus McFadden is named in an exciting back-three alongside Andrew Conway and Isa Nacewa, with captain Leo Cullen and Damian Browne pairing up in the second row.
In addition, there are home debuts for newly-capped Ireland tighthead prop Michael Bent and centre Andrew Goodman, who has featured in the province’s last two away league games.
Bent appeared as a replacement in Ireland’s GUINNESS Series Tests against South Africa and Argentina. On Saturday, he will be joined in the front row by returning Ireland international Sean Cronin and Springbok Heinke van der Merwe.
The likes of Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Isaac Boss have been named on a strong replacements bench.
Looking for the team to lay down a marker ahead of the back-to-back Heineken Cup encounters with Clermont Auvergne, Cullen said: “It’s about managing ourselves, it will depend on the conditions of course.
“Against Glasgow (last week) we managed some good stuff in the first half with line-breaks, but the game deteriorated in the second half and it turned into a bit of a slog.
“The weather will dictate a lot this weekend. It’s important that we’re adaptable and can play in whatever conditions prevail.
“For us though, these upcoming games against Clermont are going to be pivotal to our season. They’ve got off to a flier with two wins and two bonus points.
“They’ve great strength in their squad – it’ll be interesting to see who they play against Toulouse this weekend – but at the moment we’ll focus on Zebre.”
Ticket sales for the Leinster v Zebre game have passed the 15,500 mark and will be on sale from Ticketmaster outlets around the RDS from 2pm on matchday.
Tickets are still on sale online here, and are also available from the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook) and Spar (Donnybrook) as well as Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Meanwhile, Zebre boss Christian Gajan has welcomed Matteo Pratichetti and Tito Tebaldi back into his starting back-line for this round 10 fixture in Dublin.
The pair missed last Sunday’s 14-7 defeat to the Cardiff Blues in Parma, while Samuele Pace, who scored the Italians’ try against Cardiff, is ruled out this week due to a fever.
Gajan has decided to rest South African number 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, the club’s most used player so far this season and also their leading try scorer in the league (3 tries).
Former Munster prop David Ryan will make his second consecutive start in the front row, with lock Quintin Geldenhuys back on duty for Zebre after playing for Italy against Tonga, New Zealand and Australia in recent weeks.
In the backs, the 20-year-old Leonardo Sarto gets an opportunity to impress on the right wing.
Pratichetti resumes at inside centre alongside captain Gonzalo Garcia and Tebaldi and Australian top scorer Daniel Halangahu pair up at half-back – as they did so effectively in the rescheduled game against Ulster.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Andrew Conway, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Goodman, Fergus McFadden; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Heinke van der Merwe, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent, Leo Cullen (capt), Damian Browne, Kevin McLaughlin, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Tom Denton, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fionn Carr.
ZEBRE: Ruggero Trevisan; Leonardo Sarto, Gonzalo Garcia (capt), Matteo Pratichetti, Sinoti Sinoti; Daniel Halangahu, Tito Tebaldi; Matias Aguero, Carlo Festuccia, David Ryan, Quintin Geldenhuys, Josh Sole, Nicola Cattina, Mauro Bergamasco, Filippo Cristiano.
Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Andrea de Marchi, Carlo Fazzari, Emiliano Caffini, Nicola Belardo, Alberto Chillon, David Odiete, Paolo Buso.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin, Richard Kerr (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/200; Draw: 50/1; Zebre to win: 20/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster) – “We have a lot of respect for Zebre because we saw how good they were against Ulster a few weeks back in what was a game they should have won.
“Italian rugby is growing every season and their national team impressed with their comeback against Australia last weekend. Again, with a bit of luck, they might have snatched victory there.
“So we’ll be looking to build this week, mindful that we are facing a side that are going to come over here with a fair bit of confidence despite their league position.
“With the international players returning this week, it has given us a timely injection because we were pretty depleted in the opening months.
“It almost feels like a fresh start for us. We’re in a decent position in both the PRO12 and Heineken Cup, but we really need to push on. That challenge starts now.”
Christian Gajan (Zebre) – “The poor attitude cost us the chance of a victory (last weekend) and the indiscipline and dropped balls allowed Cardiff to take advantage.
“The last three games have been better for the fans, last Sunday less so, but we need to rediscover that aggressive defence, our discipline and the right attitude that we showed in Munster and against the Scarlets.
“We’ve got nothing to lose against the European champions, but we have to be at our best and show what we can do.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 60; Tries: Brendan Macken, Ian Madigan 3 each; Zebre – Points: Daniel Halangahu 36; Tries: Andries van Schalkwyk 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
– Leinster’s only loss in their last six games in all competitions was 19-10 at the Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 on November 4
– The Leinstermen have a 100% winning record at home in all tournaments this season
– Zebre have picked up three of their four league points so far in their last two games, gaining two points in their narrow defeat to Ulster and another losing bonus point at home to the Cardiff Blues last Sunday
– The two sides have never met before as this is the Italians’ first season in existence