Fitzgerald’s flying return


Fitzgerald’s flying return

With Richardt Strauss also claiming the man-of-the-match award, it was an evening with some merit for the home side but the game itself failed to do anything to lift the spirits of the crowd in a cold and wet Dublin night.

“Very stop-start,” said O’Connor, who confirmed there were no major injury concerns to arise from the evening.

“It was a tricky enough one,” said Fitzgerald. “I thought the tempo was very slow and that made it hard for us to get going and then we made some crucial handling errors at crucial times as well. Lots to work on. It was kind of flat. It was weird.”

That Leinster stuttered was understandable, given that it had been three long weeks since their last outing in the PRO12, and they were also re-assimilating a number of their internationals after the Six Nations exertions.

Another 11 return to training this Monday as attention turns to next weekend’s Aviva Stadium clash with Munster and the visit to Toulon a week later when a Heineken Cup semi-final place will be up for discussion.

Ian Madigan celebrated his 100th cap for the province and his 25th birthday, but more noteworthy was the sight of Fitzgerald leaving the tunnel stripped off, given his ongoing absences in the past two months with a pelvic problem.

Zebre looked like they would be perfectly obliging guests in an opening seven-minute spell where they conceded four penalties and pretty much all the possession and territory but they proved more tenacious thereafter.

A Madigan penalty after eight minutes was the home side’s only reward for a dominant first quarter but Zebre out-half Tommaso Iannone was in the sinbin, probably for consistent collective misdemeanours, by the time the first try arrived.

Mini-breaks from Fitzgerald and Fergus McFadden — who played at 13 — in the Leinster half provided the initial impetus and 18 phases skipped by, many of them in the Italian 22, before Noel Reid backed himself to go over, just left of the posts.

Madigan missed his conversion and a second penalty to add to the pair Iannone spurned in that same ho-hum period to leave the score at just 8-0 at the break, with Leinster needing to get through some work to claim the win and bonus point.

The huffing and puffing continued through the entire third quarter which was peppered with a litany of Zebre replacements but some breathing space was finally purchased on the hour mark by that man Fitzgerald.

It took some pounding on the Zebre line to manoeuvre the opening for the winger who touched down in the left corner after Eoin Reddan fed him off the base of the scrum and he did so despite a dangerous stray boot from an Italian defender.

The conversion from wide out was by some way the toughest Madigan faced on the night but the out-half nailed this one to leave it 15-0 and O’Connor’s side needing two more tries to claim the bonus point.

The first of them was secured within moments, a trademark Leinster wraparound move in midfield opening up the extremities for Fitzgerald to scamper in for his second try of the night before he took his leave for the rest of the evening.

That valuable fourth try looked to have evaded them until Jordi Murphy finally went over on the back of a maul in injury-time before Madigan claimed a less meaningful conversion.

Job done. Move on.

LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; D Fanning, F McFadden, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong; L Cullen, M McCarthy; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, J Murphy. Replacements: M Moore for Furlong (30); S Jennings for McLaughlin (57); E Reddan for Boss (57); T Denton for McCarthy (62); A Dundon for Strauss; B Macken for Fitzgerald (both 67); J Gopperth for Reid (72); J O’Connell for Moore (76).

ZEBRE; D Odiete; G Toniolatti, G Venditti, K Ratuvou, D Berryman; T Iannone, B Leonard; S Perugini, T D’Apice, D Ryan; G Biagi, M Bortolami; F Ferrarini, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.

Replacements: S De Marchi for Perugini (HT); M Van Vuren for Biagi (43); D Giazzon for D’Apice; E Caffini for Bortolami (both 50); D Chistolini for Ryan (53); G Palazinni for Toniolatti (62); A Chillon for Berryman (72); G Toniolatti for Iannone (79).

Referee: M Mitrea (FIR).

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