The Italians may have lacked the same pedigree as the English champions in last year’s corresponding fixture, but there was a huge sense of expectation at Stadio XXV Aprile and, although the win came without frills, it is the foundation stone to their season.
“We are chuffed,” said Elwood. “To take an away win in the Heineken regardless of who you are playing, that is a good achievement for us. We are in a good place and now everybody is looking forward to Harlequins’ visit.”
It will require a step up in performance, given Quins’ 40-13 dismissal of Europe’s third-ranked team Biarritz at the Stoop, but after Connacht’s memorable 9-8 victory in the final pool fixture last season, the home side will be prepared.
“There is a lot of history. But the good thing for us is that we have done the job we had to do in Parma and now we are heading into the Harlequins match with confidence.
“We have been trying to evolve our style of play over the last two and half years. Dan Parks has given us another dimension, but it is a young exciting backline and we are creating opportunities. But we will need to be more clinical next week against Harlequins.”
Having fashioned a host of scoring chances against Zebre in the second half, Connacht contrived to butcher most of them. Eventually flanker John Muldoon grabbed the initiative and from a quick tap scored a decisive try midway through the second half.
“We just felt if we could build the phases, build the pressure and keep our composure, the opportunity would come,” said Elwood.
It came after a scrappy opening half in which Connacht gained the ascendancy through the boot of out-half Dan Parks, who kicked three from three in the opening 40 minutes as Zebre’s full back Daniel Halangahu failed with two.
With veteran Italian flanker Mauro Bergamasco in the bin for a dangerous tackle on Tiernan O’Halloran, Connacht should have pushed ahead but spurned several opportunities. Parks kept the scoreboard ticking over with a 60th minute penalty, before Muldoon’s try and Parks’ conversion gave Connacht a 19-3 lead, and although a frustrated Zebre capitalised on Connacht errors to score a try in the 73rd minute, they failed to get anything out of their first Heineken Cup fixture.
ZEBRE: D Halangahu; G Venditti, M Pratichetti, G Garcia, S Sinoti; L Orquera, T Tebaldi; S Perugini, D Giazzon, L Redolfini; Q Geldenhuys, J Sole; N Belardo, M Bergamasco, D van Schalkwyk.
Replacements: C Festuccia for Giazzon, C Fazzari for Redolfini, M Van Vuren for Belardo (all 52m), F Ferrarini for Orquera (55m), M Aguero for Perugini (56m), l Sarto for Sinoti (64m), R Trevisan for Garcia (65m).
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, E Reynecke, N White (capt); M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, W Faloon, G Naoupu.
Replacements: R Ah You for Buckley (50m), J O’Connor for Faloon (58m), D Gannon for Swift, M Fafita for McSharry, D Moore for Marmion (all 70m).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).