James Lowe and Max Deegan double up as Leinster hammer Zebre

James Lowe and Max Deegan double up as Leinster hammer Zebre
Leinster's Rory O’Loughlin celebrates scoring a try. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Leinster 41 Zebre 6

James Lowe and Max Deegan scored two tries each as Leinster kept their Guinness Pro14 home semi-final hopes on track with a 41-6 bonus-point win over Zebre at the RDS.

The Conference B leaders, who have temporarily opened up an eight-point lead over second-placed Scarlets, ended the first half with a 12-3 advantage thanks to scores from Lowe and Rory O'Loughlin.

Man-of-the-match Deegan book-ended the third quarter with two well-taken tries, with Carlo Canna's second penalty sandwiched in between.

Leinster finished with a flourish, Lowe grabbing his ninth try in 10 starts, 22-year-old Academy prop Vakh Abdaladze getting his first senior score, and fellow replacement Bryan Byrne completing the seven-try rout.

The Irish province's defence stood up well to Zebre's early assaults, Dan Leavy forcing a knock-on at the breakdown and Barry Daly's half break bringing the hosts past halfway.

New Zealander Lowe soon burst into life, threatening from a kick through - and then a quick tap - before Ross Byrne fed him for his close-range try near the left corner after 12 minutes.

A curling conversion from Ross Byrne made it a seven-point return, but the Italians continued to have their moments in a scrappy opening quarter.

Amid a heavy rain shower, Dario Chistolini won a scrum penalty on his 100th appearance for the club, launching a promising spell at the end of which scrum-half Marcello Violi just failed to get the ball against the foot of the post for a try.

His half-back partner Canna mopped up the three points on offer.

However, a superb break by full-back Daly on a kick return launched Leinster forward for a timely second try. Backs and forwards combined, mostly notably James Tracy and Tadhg Furlong, and the visitors' defence was suitably stretched for Lowe to send centre O'Loughlin sliding over, wide on the right.

Zebre fell further behind inside the opening minute of the second half. Deegan reacted quickest after referee Ian Davies ruled that the ball was out of a Zebre ruck, the young number eight pinching it from under Violi's nose and charging over from inside the 22.

After Ross Byrne's missed conversion, Zebre had another decent spell on the back of a couple of penalties, and although turnovers from Leavy and Tracy thwarted them, Canna doubled his side's tally off the tee.

That was as close as they could get, Leinster picking up the pace as Deegan, who took an initial tap, touched down on the hour mark after a pacy attack involving Lowe and O'Loughlin again, and a final pass from fly-half Ross Byrne.

Mattia Bellini denied Adam Byrne, who knocked on a bouncing cross-field kick from Ross Byrne, but with the youthful Leinster bench full of running, including 20-year-old debutant Gavin Mullin, they added three more tries in an eight-minute spell.

Having broken the defensive line, Ross Byrne's deflected pass was gobbled up by the onrushing Lowe to seal his brace, and Ross Byrne converted Abdaladze's low 71st-minute drive for the whitewash.

Reserve hooker Bryan Byrne struck with a similar effort, five minutes from the final whistle.

- PA

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