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Sexton returns in style as Leinster ease past Zebre

Johnny Sexton marked his long-awaited return to Guinness PRO12 action with a perfect record from the tee as Leinster sailed past Zebre under Friday Night Lights.

With seven different try scorers, including three for Rory O’Loughlin, Leo Cullen’s men sealed the bonus point with just half an hour played, with Sexton – pulling on the Leinster jersey for the first time since the autumn internationals two months ago – contributing 12 points to their tally.

Two first-half penalties from Edoardo Padovani had given the Italians hope in the early stages, but the Irish province proved too strong as they maintained their top three position.

Leinster were the first to get on the scoresheet when Sean O’Brien dotted down after fine work from the centres saw the ball spread wide, Sexton successfully kicking the conversion from the tee.

Zebre pulled a penalty back on 16 minutes through Padovani, but the hosts immediately responded as Hayden Triggs crossed the whitewash before Sexton added the extras.

Padovani added another three points to Zebre’s tally to narrow the advantage to eight, but Luke McGrath was quick to restore the hosts’ lead with a try, running under the posts following slick play with Zane Kirchner.

Cian Healy’s big carry made it 28-6 on the 30-minute mark to secure the bonus point, with Sexton converting both to make it four from four.

And on the stroke of half-time, McGrath broke free from the scrum before putting O’Loughlin through for a converted try to ensure Leinster went into the break 29 points ahead.

The hosts had the first opportunity for points of the second period, when Dan Leavy looked set to cross in the corner after a stunning James Tracy pass, only to be tackled into touch.

But they didn’t have long to wait for that first try of the second 40, Garry Ringrose ploughing over the line for his side’s sixth try of the evening, Sexton continuing his perfect record from the tee.

O’Loughlin got his second of the game on the 70-minute mark when he crossed from close range, before securing his hat-trick just minutes later after latching on to a sublime Ringrose off-load to score once more, Ross Byrne successfully converting both.

The Italians finished the game with 14 men when Guillermo Roan was shown a yellow card, and their fate was sealed when Ringrose added his second try – and his side’s ninth –  of the game with the clock ticking down, crossing over following a scrum five metres from the line, Byrne once again adding the two points.

And Jamie Heaslip wrapped up his side’s stunning performance with a last-gasp try, converted by Byrne, to seal a 70-6 victory for Leinster for their second win on the bounce.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final


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