herald

Monday 21 August 2017

It's black and white for Blues in Zebre

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen

The Italians' most recent home form would have any club on their toes.

Scratch just below the surface and you will find the reality a touch underwhelming.

Ulster paid the price for taking Zebre for granted and The Ospreys almost fell through the same trapdoor last week.

The truth of the matter is that Ulster brought a second rate side to Italy and lost out 13-6. The Ospreys followed the same path to self-destruction, only to get out (15-14) alive.

Zebre have set about putting everything into what they do at home, losing just twice there in the last seven matches in Parma.

It is simply a matter of building respect, if not quite a fortress of fear. They have to set a good example at home before thy can take their show on the road.

Leinster have to travel back in time to the season 2010/2011 for the last time they were on the end of back-to-back beatings in the PRO12 League.

There will be no complacency tomorrow. There can be none.

The champions have slumped to an uncharacteristic seventh in the table by the end of round five.

The simple, straightforward statistics tell us they have been notoriously slow starters for the past ten seasons, not just in Matt O'Connor's time.

Even Joe Schmidt could not solve the disadvantage of the IRFU's mandatory allotted time given over to pre-season and the trickle of top players back into the Leinster system.

UNBEATEN

In fact, you have to thumb through the records to 2004/2005 to find a season where they drew one and won three of their first four, staying unbeaten through the first month.

The spate of injuries that has disarmed Leinster of some primary weapons has given rise to opportunity for others. That window is still open ahead of the start of the European Champions Cup.

For sure, O'Connor cannot be certain of his game plan against Wasps, or rather the fifteen that will carry it out, on Sunday week because of the degree of uncertainty over who he will have at his command. The secret to immediate success is to keep both eyes focussed on the next four points.

Leinster have lost one of 16 matches against Italian clubs in the PRO12.

More significantly, they have always been able to pick up all five points against Zebre without the concession of even a losing bonus point. Four would do quite nicely tomorrow.

Verdict: Leinster

ZEBRE v LEINSTER

STADIO APRILE (Tomorrow 3.0)

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