Adam Byrne stars as Leinster cruise to victory at home to Zebre

By Michael Scully

ADAM Byrne revelled in his return for Leinster as the seven-try Blues romped to victory at the RDS.

Byrne, 27, was making his comeback after 22 months out due to a series of injuries, including hamstring and quads.

But the Kildare winger marked his comeback with two of Leinster's tries and was unlucky not to bag a hat-trick in front of 10,400 fans as the province returned to the RDS for the first time this season.

Although Leo Cullen's side scored three tries in the first half, considering how poor their opponents were the head coach would have hoped for more cohesion from his side and more accurate attacking intent.

He got that for half an hour of the second half alright as the hosts ran riot, although there will still be some concerns over that stop-start first half showing, and a poor finale to the second, on the back of a hard-earned one point win at the Dragons six days earlier.

The game was four seconds shy of two minutes old when the province nabbed their first try - the prolific back row Scott Penny touching down for a remarkable 17th time in 30 games.

A second followed in the 13th minute when Jordan Larmour used power and grace to get through a number of tackles to the tryline.

And Byrne got in at the corner just before the break, latching onto Johnny Sexton's skip pass to score in the right corner.

Other than that the first half was frustrating for Leinster.

Returning from a toe injury, Harry Byrne missed both conversion attempts in a poor kicking display overall before a hip injury - he took a right whack in a 23rd minute tackle by Jacopo Bianchi - and was replaced by Sexton, who had sat out last week's arm-wrestle in Wales.

The veteran also missed the conversion for the Byrne try - a more difficult effort from near the right touchline - while Sean Cronin was off-target with a couple of line-outs.

That's not what Cullen wanted to see after Leinster's line-out failed to fire last week but eventually the problem got sorted.

Ryan Baird was held up on Zebre's try-line just before the half hour mark, while the visitors had the chance to break their duck in the 33rd minute when Antonio Rizzi's long-range penalty - caused by Larmour putting his hands on the out-half in the air - fell short.

Not surprisingly, there was an urgency about Leinster's play when they returned after the half-time break and the bonus point was wrapped up less than three minutes after the restart, with Ed Byrne crashing over from close in.

Sexton knocked over the first successful conversion of the afternoon and it was a question then of how many more tries the home side would score.

Plenty, was the answer. Cronin just about squeezed over in the left corner two minutes later - Sexton nailed the best kick of the game for the extras - and the Blues' sixth try followed in the 49th minute.

Already on their way to another heavy defeat, the Italians lost Rizzi to the sin-bin when he unceremoniously dumped Sexton into the turf.

Moments later, Sexton kicked to Byrne in acres of space and the Kill man had all the time in the world to score.

Jimmy O'Brien should have put him clear for a hat-trick soon after, but mis-timed the crucial pass.

The fans had to wait a while longer for the next score, and this time it was Ronan Kelleher - coming off the bench for his first appearance since his late Lions call-up in the summer - finishing a 65th minute lineout maul, with Sexton knocking over another tough conversion.

Two minutes later, the visitors finally got some reward for their efforts when sub Nick McCarthy coughed up possession in midfield and Pierre Bruno did well to feint past Rob Russell to score a try.

Replacement out-half Paolo Pescetto added the conversion and, in fact, Zebre were unlucky not to score again off Guglielmo Palazzani's kick-through as the supporters began to head for the exits.


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