By Kieran Rooney
LEINSTER prepared for their two crunch Heineken Cup matches against top French outfit Clermont Auvergne with a comprehensive 37-7 RaboDirect Pro12 victory over Zebre at the RDS.
In reality, Clermont and Zebre could not be more different. Zebre prop up the RaboDirect table having lost all of their ten games.
Still, last Saturday's outing at the RDS did at least give Leinster the opportunity to try a few things. Importantly, international flanker Sean O'Brien came through a second game unscathed after missing most of the season.
O'Brien was withdrawn along with Jonathan Sexton at half-time, presumably with Sunday's first clash against Clermont in mind. By then, Leinster had matters well under control, Sexton having contributed a try, two conversions and a penalty to enable them to lead 17-0.
Leinster scored five tries in all, the others coming from Fergus McFadden (2), Andrew Conway and Cian Healy. Afterwards, Sexton stressed that Leinster's whole season depended on their two results against Clermont.
"A losing bonus point may not be good enough for us, so we'll probably need to win in France." stated the Irish out-half.
Elsewhere, Munster prepared for their back to back matches with top English side
Saracens by beating Glasgow Warriors 31-3 at Thomond Park. South African flanker CJ Stander made a good case for a starting place by scoring two tries.
Munster also had a try from another member of the back-row Tommy O'Donnell and there was a penalty try. Ronan O'Gara landed all four conversions and added a penalty.
Ulster still top the table after a 19-12 away victory over the Scarlets. Wing Andrew Trimble scored the decisive try from an intercept.
The win means that Ulster have won all of their 10 outings to lead the table by nine points. The Scarlets are still in second position, ahead of Leinster and Munster in third and fourth respectively.
Unfortunately, Connacht were out of luck again, losing 24-23 at home to Edinburgh. Coach Eric Elwod is now hoping the tide will turn for Friday night's attractive Heineken
Cup match against Biarritz at the Sportsground.
Elwood is keeping his fingers crossed that some of his more influential forwards will be able to resume, including the Irish second-row Mike McCarthy.