You would have got fair odds on Treviso and Zebre being above Connacht in the table heading into the third series of matches but, as often happens in early season placings, it’s a bit distorted and neither of the Italian sides have won a game either.
Connacht have won all eight league games they have played against Zebre but defeat this evening will see Connacht become only the second ever defending champions in the history of the competition to lose the opening three matches of the title defence.
Ospreys lost the first three matches in the 2007-08 season and never recovered, finishing seventh in the ten team league at the time.
They also lost their opening three games in the 2012-13 campaign — they eventually finished fifth, four points outside a semi-final spot — while Connacht’s 32-11 home loss to Ospreys last weekend, having also been turned over 41-5 at the Sportsground on the opening day by Glasgow, meant they were the first champions to be pointless after two matches in the defence of their crown.
Connacht coach Pat Lam has made six changes from last week’s defeat. Following concussion Denis Buckley returns at loosehead and at the other side of the front-row JP Cooney makes his first PRO12 start for Connacht after 22 appearances off the bench, due to Finlay Bealham’s illness.
Elsewhere Lewis Stevenson makes his first start and partners the returning Andrew Browne in the second row.
E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, V Giovanbattista; C Canna, G Palazzani; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; J Sarto, M Mbanda, F Ruzza.
D Tommaso, P Bruno, G Roan / D Chistolini, G Koegelenberg, D Minnie, C Engelbrecht, T Castello, K Van Zyl.
T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney; L Stevenson, A Browne; E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon.
D Heffernan, R Loughney, C Carey, U Dillane, R Moloney, K Marmion, S O’Leary, M Healy.
Ian Davies (WRU).