Dan Leavy’s maul try, two minutes from time, completed a 27-10 bonus point victory for Leinster in the Parma mud this afternoon.
Scores from Luke McGrath (5 minutes) and Dominic Ryan (17) launched Leo Cullen’s men into a 12-3 half-time lead, the difficult conditions seeing the visitors’ white jerseys quickly take on a mud-stained hue.
Former Leinster player Ian McKinley kicked Zebre’s points off the tee, but an Isa Nacewa penalty and Adam Byrne try strengthened the province’s grip on the match.
The gritty Italians responded with a deserved try from flanker Federico Ruzza, before Cullen’s charges ensured a five-point return when workhorse Dan Leavy plunged over from a lineout maul in the right corner.
The result sees Leinster stay second in the GUINNESS PRO12 table, now just a point behind provincial rivals Connacht with a game in hand.
An early ruck penalty won by Leavy launched his side forward and a good spell of continuity ended with Mils Muliaina having to cover a well-weighted kick through from captain Nacewa.
From the resulting close-in lineout, Zebre managed to defend the maul but McGrath caught his opposite number Fabio Semenzato off guard when he sniped over from the blindside of a ruck.
After Nacewa missed the conversion, Leinster continued to exert territorial pressure with Garry Ringrose and Cathal Marsh finding holes around the fringes.
The province ended the first quarter with a second try, McGrath sending Peter Dooley barging up into the 22 and the prop passed to his right for the supporting Ryan, who was in the thick of the action, to dive in under the posts. Nacewa converted for 12-0.
McKinley opened Zebre’s account with a well-struck 28th-minute penalty, as the likes of Quintin Geldenhuys, Jacopo Sarto and Ruzza became more prominent in the forward exchanges.
The first half had a scrappy finish with neither side getting into scoring range amid a succession of handling errors and lengthy scrums.
Although Zebre’s well-marshalled defence frustrated Leinster on the resumption, a Nacewa penalty in the 46th minute restored the 12-point advantage.
Five minutes later, Academy talent Byrne broke through for his second successive try against the Italians. Having countered impressively beforehand, Byrne expertly side-footed a Marsh chip past Muliaina and touched down ahead of the retreating Semenzato.
Nacewa’s conversion widened the margin to 22-3 before Zebre enjoyed their best spell of the contest, threatening out wide through Kayle van Zyl who was tackled into touch by Ryan.
Leinster were on the back foot as Zebre, with replacement scrum half Luke Burgess making the required impact, dominated much of the final quarter.
A prolonged spell of pressure on the Leinster 22 earned them a try through Ruzza who lunged over from a ruck in front of the posts after his back row colleague Sarto had been stopped just short.
McKinley added the extras, however Leinster set themselves up for a final push for the try-line. Having won a series of penalties in the 22 and with replacement Sean Cronin throwing accurately at successive lineouts, a 78th minute drive splintered the Zebre pack and saw Leavy notch his first senior try which went unconverted.
Leinster return to the RDS Arena on Saturday to face Ospreys (KO 3pm). Tickets are available now from €;20.
ZEBRE SCORERS: F. Ruzza (1 try), I. McKinley (1 conversion and 1 penalty)
LEINSTER SCORERS: L. McGrath (1 try), D. Ryan (1 try), A. Byrne (1 try), D. Leavy (1 try), I. Nacewa (2 conversions and 1 penalty)
ZEBRE: Mils Muliaina; Giulio Toniolatti, Tommaso Boni, Matteo Pratichetti, Kayle van Zyl; Ian McKinley, Fabio Semenzato; Bruno Postiglioni, Oliviero Fabiani, Guillermo Roan, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami CAPTAIN, Johan Meyer, Federico Ruzza, Jacopo Sarto.
REPLACEMENTS: Gabriele Morelli, Andrea de Marchi, Pietro Ceccarelli, Gideon Koegelenberg, Emiliano Caffini, Luke Burgess, Maicol Azzolini, Ulrich Beyers.
15. Zane Kirchner
14. Adam Byrne (Cian Kelleher, 73)
13. Garry Ringrose (Noel Reid, 53)
12. Ben Te’o
11. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN
10. Cathal Marsh
9. Luke McGrath (Nick McCarthy, 62)
1. Peter Dooley (Jeremy Loughman, 62)
2. James Tracy (Sean Cronin, 46)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent, 55)
4. Ross Molony
5. Mick Kearney (Hayden Triggs, 46)
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Dan Leavy (Peadar Timmins, 79)
8. Jordi Murphy
REFEREE: Leighton Hodges (WRU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Matteo Liperini, Ricardo Angelucci (both FIR); CITING COMMISSIONER: Francesco Grillo (FIR); TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR).