For long periods the game hung on a knife-edge, with Zebre taking the lead for the first time in the 70th minute, but crucially, Connacht established territorial control.
Last weekend Miah Nikora, who has penned another year’s contract with the province, kicked the necessary points, and last night Dan Parks was back to add a drop goal and an 80th-minute penalty to seal a well deserved victory, their seventh this season.
Connacht started at lightning speed and were two tries up within the opening 20 minutes.
Gavin Duffy set up the first within two minutes, taking Parks’ inside pass at speed before the supporting No 8 Eoin McKeon crossed with Parks adding the extras.
Although Zebre opened their tally when out-half Paolo Buso kicked a 17th minute penalty, Connacht replied when Duffy finished off a patient build-up through the phases for a 14-3 lead.
It was short-lived. By the break Zebre had closed the gap to a single point with a Buso penalty and conversion to right wing Leonardo Sarto’s try.
The second half became a something of a dogfight after Parks had stretched the lead to 17-13, but increasingly the home side got on the wrong side of the referee, resulting in Ronan Loughney, only on the pitch as a replacement, being sin-binned after Connacht had collapsed a maul at a second warning.
With Buso once again making it a one-point game, Zebre then took the lead through a penalty from Italian international Gonzalo Garcia when Connacht were penalised in the scrum.
Not for the first time were Connacht forced to dig deep against deep against this side, and helped by Bergamasco’s late sin-binning, they wrested control to claim valuable home victory.
Scorers for Connacht: E McKeon, G Duffy try each; D Parks 2 cons, 2 pens, drop goal.
Scorers for Zebre: L Sarto try; P Buso con, 3 pens; G Garcia pen.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw, D Poolman, E Griffin B Murphy, G Duffy (cpt), D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White, M Kearney, A Browne, J Muldoon, W Faloon, E McKeon.
Replacements: D Buckley for Wilkinson and F Vainikolo for Henshaw (49m), R Loughney for White and G Naoupu for McKeon (59m), P O’Donohoe for Marmion (71m).
ZEBRE: A Benettin, L Sarto, M Pratchetti, G Garcia, S Sinoti, P Buso, A Chillon, A de Marchi, A Manici, D Ryan, J Sole, M Bortolami, F Ferrarini, M Bergamasco, A Van Schalwkwyk.
Replacements: M Aguero for De Marchi (44), C Festuccia for Manici (47m), L Leibson for Ryan and N Belardo for Van Schalwkwyk (59m), A Chiesa for Sarto and E Caffini for Belardo (66m), G Palazzani for Chillon 976m).
Referee: N Hennessy (WRU)