Tries from debutant centre Tom Daly and his house-mate Adam Byrne helped Leinster end a tricky first half in Parma with a 12-10 lead, the visitors recovering from Mike McCarthy’s early sin-binning and Zebre number 8 Dries van Schalkwyk’s subsequent score.
Leo Cullen’s men found an extra gear on the resumption with winger Byrne touching down either side of Jack Conan’s 55th-minute effort. Captain Isa Nacewa nailed all three conversions before making way for UCD clubman Hugo Keenan who won his first senior cap in the final nine minutes.
Leinster’s seventh win in eight GUINNESS PRO12 outings sends them into the international break as table toppers. They resume their campaign on Friday, November 25 away to the Scarlets.
In greasy conditions at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, the visitors got off to a pleasing start with Adam Byrne claiming out-half Ross Byrne’s kick-off and prop Andrew Porter – on his first start – making an early carry.
However, Zebre soon got into position and their forwards pressed for a try from a couple of five-metre lineouts, yellow-carded second row McCarthy paying the price for penalties given away in scoring range. The Italians made their numerical advantage count in the scrum as van Schalkwyk grounded the ball in the 16th minute, with Carlo Canna converting.
Leinster were back level within six minutes, Noel Reid threading a kick through to set up an advanced lineout and Conan and Sean O’Brien both carrying forcefully. The breakthrough came when Adam Byrne collected Ross Byrne’s classy chip kick and fed the supporting Daly for a run in to the right of the posts and Nacewa converted.
Rain greeted McCarthy’s return to the pitch and although Canna clipped over a penalty on the half hour mark, Leinster nipped in front for half-time with a cracking first try from Adam Byrne. His Ireland Sevens colleague Barry Daly did the hard work with a brilliant sidestepping break from his own 22. He was hauled down short but Tom Daly kept the move going and passed wide for Byrne to finish off.
It took some excellent breakdown work by the fit-again O’Brien to thwart the Italians before Leinster could trot off with a two-point advantage. There were straight swaps in the province’s front row when the second period got underway, with hooker Richardt Strauss, who made his seasonal bow, putting in a solid 45-minute shift.
Barely three minutes later, the Leinster pack showed good continuity and patiently built enough pressure for scrum half Jamison Gibson Park to send an inviting flat pass out for Byrne to grab his third try in two games. Nacewa added the extras with his best kick of the night, far out on the right, for 19-10.
Canna missed an opportunity to respond off the kicking tee, and some excellent hands from the backs – Reid, Tom Daly and Gibson Park in particular – released Conan to seal Leinster’s bonus point towards the end of the third quarter.
Young number 10 Ross Byrne increased his influence with a terrific assist for Adam Byrne’s hat-trick score, picking him out with a neat cross-field kick. The powerful winger rose above Zebre full-back Edoardo Padovani to collect and cross the whitewash in the wet conditions.
Nacewa’s fourth and final conversion closed out the scoring with just under a quarter of an hour remaining. In a scrappy conclusion, Zebre pressed for a consolation try but Ross Byrne tracked back to dot down behind his try-line and deny them.
ZEBRE SCORERS: D. van Schalkwyk (1 try), C. Canna (1 conversion and 1 penalty)
LEINSTER SCORERS: T. Daly (1 try), A. Byrne (3 tries), J. Conan (1 try), I. Nacewa (4 conversions)
ZEBRE: Edoardo Padovani; Giulio Bisegni, Matteo Pratichetti, Tommaso Castello, Giovanbattista Venditti; Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi; Andrea Lovotti, Tommaso d’Apice, Dario Chistolini, Quintin Geldenhuys, George Biagi CAPTAIN, Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer, Dries van Schalkwyk.
REPLACEMENTS: Carlo Festuccia, Bruno Postiglioni, Pietro Ceccarelli, Federico Ruzza, Derick Minnie, Guglielmo Palazzani, Carlo Engelbrecht, Simone Balocchi.
15. Isa Nacewa CAPTAIN (Hugo Keenan, 71)
14. Adam Byrne
13. Tom Daly
12. Noel Reid
11. Barry Daly
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Nick McCarthy, 71)
1. Andrew Porter (Peter Dooley, 45)
2. Richardt Strauss (James Tracy, 45)
3. Michael Bent (Mike Ross, 45)
4. Mike McCarthy (Dominic Ryan, 69)
5. Hayden Triggs (Mick Kearney, 62)
6. Dan Leavy
7. Sean O’Brien (Rhys Ruddock, 57)
8. Jack Conan
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (WRU); ASSISTANT REFEREES: Simon Rees (WRU), Filippo Bertelli (FIR); CITING COMMISSIONER: Stefano Marrama (FIR).