Connacht can grasp second chance

A lot has happened on and off the field since Connacht’s match against Zebre in Parma was called off at half-time last month when a storm struck.

Connacht can grasp second chance

Connacht, having lost their opening two league games in defence of their Pro12 crown, were trailing 22-10 when the storm forced the match to be abandoned.

And while they were beaten in Llanelli a week later, Connacht have since turned their campaign around and head back to Italy looking good to extend their winning run against Zebre to all 13 games between the sides.

But that scare last month, coupled with conceding four tries when winning by 51-34 in Parma last February, ensures that Pat Lam’s men will be on their guard as they bid to back up last weekend’s superb opening round victory over four-time champions Toulouse.

Connacht have won all eight league and four Champions Cup meetings with Zebre, but Lam said they are always capable of a shock result at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

But he said he won’t be looking past Zebre despite a Pro12 final repeat coming up next weekend against Leinster.

Lam, who has targeted a quarter-final place in the Champions Cup for the first time, has made seven changes.

Recent signing, versatile back Stacey Ili is set to make his first start on the wing.

Loosehead prop JP Cooney, who has featured 33 times as a replacement, will also make his first start.

“Our selection is not hampered by playing Leinster, this selection is the most important one,” said Lam.

“This selection is hampered by injury or there is competition. The biggest thing I was disappointed with was the impact of our bench at the start of the season.

“The stats showed us that as well, across the group we were individually not at our best, and collectively we weren’t. Everything is getting better and I complimented the guys.

“Now the secret for us is competition. I want to have headaches. I don’t want to say now that’s our only option. Now we have got competition coming in in certain positions which is great.”

Ili takes the place of injured Ireland international Tiernan O’Halloran who had played every minute of the campaign prior to the knee injury he picked up against Toulouse.

Centre Peter Robb, tipped as a huge prospect this season, returns from a hip injury to replace Bundee Aki and Ireland scrum-half Kieran Marmion wears the No 9 jersey.

Up front, Cooney replaces Conor Carey and Finlay Bealham swaps to tighthead while hooker Shane Delahunt makes his first start of the season.

Ireland lock Quinn Roux starts after his concussion lay-off. Flanker Sean O’Brien makes his first start of the season and Lam thinks his team are still not playing to their potential.

“There is plenty more to produce. We gave away a nine-point start and a 10-point lead against Toulouse.

“It’s all about trying to get the perfect game. But that’s this whole journey, it’s not the season to season. It’s about us getting better and better, guys coming in and guys going out.

“Guys know the role and the system we have, and then they perform it.”

Zebre, having been hammered 82-14 when fielding a second string team away to Wasps last weekend, are back to full strength as they bid for a first Champions Cup win in 14 games.

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