Although still sitting on top of the Pro 12 and with 15 points from their last three games, coach Pat Lam says there is no room to get carried away.
“It is exciting times, and we are looking forward to a big crowd at the Sportsground against a team on the rise. Ospreys are 12 points off us, but are always a tough team, we always struggle with them.”
Sidelined after Connacht’s victory against Zebre is Eoghan Masterson with a leg injury “a serious concern”, but hopes are high Jake Heenan (hip) and Craig Ronaldson (knee) will be fit.
Saturday’s performance in Parma was not the most clinically efficient, but Connacht still finished with six tries — all from their backs on a dry and hard pitch.
“It was a rude awakening for the boys, going from bog and mud in Galway ,” said Lam. “John Muldoon nailed it when he said in the training rooms, good teams win ugly, and the boys are doing that.”
Top try scorer and man of the match Matt Healy bagged a hat-trick, fellow winger Niyi Adeolokun crossed for two in the second half, and scrumhalf Kieran Marmion completed the tally.
The sides traded early penalties before Connacht struck with two tries in five minutes. Quick hands from Bundee Aki and Tiernan O’Halloran resulted in Matt Healy touching down in the 16th minute, with Ronaldson adding the extras.
Kieran Marmion and Ali Muldowney played crucial roles in the lead-up to the second try before the scrum-half touched down in the 21st minute after a quick tap penalty. Ronaldson’s conversion put the visitors into a 17-3 lead.
Zebre, having dominated possession in the opening half, created several chances. Former Connacht fullback Mils Muliaina showed his pedigree with slick distribution, but they lacked finishing power to add to the scoreboard until the 37th minute. Connacht lost a lineout, resulting in openside Johan Meyer driving over. Out-half Kelly Haimona converted to cut the gap to 10-17 at the break.
Connacht took control in the second half as MacGinty slipping through the cover for Healy to claim his ninth try this season, but Pat Lam’s side struggled to shake off their hosts, who countered with a 45th-minute try from out-half Haimona, who also converted. After Healy bagged the bonus try from MacGinty’s chip, Connacht then gifted Zebre a try from an intercept, scored by No 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk. Niyi Adeolokun added two tries as Connacht put the game beyond Zebre’s reach. Federico Ruzza’s try secured a bonus point for Zebre.
M Muliaina, G Toniolatti, G Bisegni M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl, K Haimona, L Burgess, B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, D Chistolini, G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami (cpt), E Caffini, J Meyer, A Van Schalkwyk.
U Beyers for Muliaina (50), P Ceccearelli for Chistolini (55), T Boni for Bisegni and F Ruzza for Caffini (57), A De Marchi for Postiglioni (59), F Christiano for van Schalkwyk (65), M Panunzi for Burgess (67), E Coria for Fabiani (74).
T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy, A MacGinty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, B Marshall, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), J Heenan, E McKeon.
E Masterson for Heenan (25m), G Naoupu for Masterson (45m), P Robb for Ronaldson (49m), C Blade for Marmion, Ah You for Bealham and R Loughney for Buckley (59m),D Heffernan for Marshall (60), D Poolman for O’Halloran (72).
G Conway (Ireland).