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In the bigger picture, Leinster got the result, they got the job done, they got out of Italy and they will be happy enough that.
Leinster’s 40-24 victory over Zebre wasn’t perfect and here I will go through some of the aspects of their play which secured the bonus-point win over their Italian rivals.
I think Leinster had a very good first 20 minutes and they were able to do what they needed to do when they needed to do it.
The tactics that Zebre used in the first half were probably a little naive. They got them all wrong.
For example, the lineout from Leinster which led to their first try, Zebre decided to put up a couple of pods (white circles) against them to try to compete instead of staying down to produce a counter drive from the maul (blue circle 1) they knew Leinster were going to produce.
It’s a very risky play to put a defensive lineout against them in that situation. It was proven as they were absolutely drilled out of it. Leinster were uncontested going over in the corner for that first try.
I don’t know if they weren’t prepared or that they were trying something different by thinking if they went up and competed they might catch Leinster on the hop and steal the ball.
So maybe it was just ‘look, we won’t be able to stop the maul, so let’s just gamble on this, put up a couple of pods’ – but the gamble didn’t pay off, that’s for sure.
After conceding that score, Zebre had a gilt-edged opportunity to hit back with a try of their own.
There was great play in the build-up to that. The line break and the flick-back inside was excellent. They got up to the Leinster 22 and it was a good break around the outside. Josh Renton produced a reverse pass to the replacement centre Paula Balekana and he gave a pass inside to Carlo Canna.
Canna just juggled the ball and knocked it on. He should have scored from that and that was a big chance that went begging for them.
In the opening quarter of the first half, Leinster were brilliant in attack and a lot of the good work came through inside centre Conor O’Brien (white circle) who I thought had a very good game.
O’Brien’s carrying was direct and effective and we saw the first example of this from the scrum setpiece which came about from Canna’s knock on above.
Jamison Gibson-Park plays a simple pass from the base of the scrum to an onrushing O’Brien. The centre fixes his defender and targets a gap as he makes huge gains and gets Leinster on the front foot.
In the centre area, he was huge for what Leinster were doing. Once he gets through, he’s great at offloading the ball and keeping the ball alive for the players coming in support. He had an immense game.
In the build-up to Leinster’s second try, O’Brien was hugely influential as he receives the ball from Gibson-Park on first phase. O’Brien powers through contact to get Leinster over the gain line.
Leinster were looking to get width on the ball quite early in this game and we see that from the ensuing ruck after O’Brien’s initial break.
The visitors work the ball through the hands quickly which results in Dave Kearney going over for Leinster’s second try.
Leinster were really trying to get the ball out to the likes of Adam Byrne, even Kearney coming in from fullback to receive a pass out on the wing as we see above. Barry Daly, too. They were all very much involved early doors for Leinster.
They just wanted to get it away from the big Zebre forwards and ship it out wide because they thought there were gains to be made in that and there was for the most part.
Another example of Leinster getting the ball wide quickly came almost immediately after Kearney’s try above.
The ball is moved through the hands to O’Brien who sends a long looping pass to Kearney who has come up to join the attack again. This time, the passage of play breaks down as Kearney’s offload to Daly doesn’t go to hand but it shows Leinster’s intent from the off to get the ball to fringes.
Overall, I think Leinster just about deserved their win but Zebre, considering the year that they’ve had and the struggles they come up against being who they are, I think they will be very, very proud of the performance like that against Leinster because there wasn’t that much in it in the end.
If that first try that was juggled had of gone in, all of a sudden they might have been in the lead towards the end of the game and it would be different then.
To be fair to Leinster, they never looked in danger of losing the game. I think there were big performances from the likes of O’Brien and Ross Byrne. There were different players and good individual performances and I think they got the job done and they never looked like they weren’t going to get the job done but it wasn’t a full performance from them, it wasn’t an 80-minute performance.
There were gaps there that they will worry about. Defensively, certainly, there was a number of missed tackles that lads will be getting pointed out to this week.
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