Connacht aiming to end campaign on a high

Failure to manage a bonus point in last weekend’s loss to Harlequins has made it mathematically impossible to catch pool runners-up Biarritz, but pride and a third Heineken Cup win are at stake for Connacht this evening.

Connacht have beaten Italian visitors Zebre twice already this season — a 30-17 victory in the RaboDirect Pro12 early in the season and a closer 19-10 win in the Heineken Cup — both away from home. However, Connacht coach Eric Elwood says his side will not be taking anything for granted tonight.

“We are not happy with the manner of the defeat against Harlequins and now we have an opportunity here. But we need a workmanlike performance and precision in our execution. We win games by everyone chipping in and putting their shoulders to the wheel and this evening’s match is no exception. Nothing will be easy, it will be hard fought.

After a raft of recent injuries, some good news is the return of Dan Parks following a hamstring injury, and there will be an extra incentive for a trio of players with Mike McCarthy, Robbie Henshaw and David McSharry selected on Declan Kidney’s extended Ireland training squad yesterday.

Parks is the only change in the backline, while injuries to George Naoupu and Eoin McKeon, have necessitated a reshuffle of the backrow. Andrew Browne moves to No. 8 with Mike Kearney coming in on the blindside, while in the front row Brett Wilkinson comes in for the injured Denis Buckley.

Zebre have made eight changes to the side that lost to Biarritz last weekend with their top points scorer Daniel Halangahu named at outhalf. Although winless, they boast eight Italian internationals in their line-up, led by 92-times capped Mauro Bergamasco.

Tonight’s final pool round of games could also be Connacht’s last for at least a season unless another Irish province wins either the Heineken or the Amlin.

CONNACHT RUGBY: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White (c), M Swift, M McCarthy, M Kearney, J O’Connor, A Browne.

Replacements: E Reynecke, J Cooney, R Loughney, D Gannon, E Grace, P O’Donohoe, M Nikora, D Poolman.

ZEBRE: T Tebaldi; G Venditti, R Quartaroli, M Pratichetti, R Trevisan; D Halangahu, A Chillon; S Perugini, D Giazzon, L Redolfini, M van Vuuren, J Sole, E Caffini, M Bergamasco (c), F Ferrarini.

Replacements: C Festuccia, M Aguero, D Ryan, N Belardo, A Manici, L Martinelli, A Chiesa, S Pace.

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