Connacht in good heart for big double date with Wasps

Zebre 7 Connacht 52: Two rounds played in the Champions Cup and only three teams in Europe have chalked up two wins. No surprise that Saracens and Clermont Auvergne have begun in such stellar fashion, but Pat Lam’s men are beginning to show that their historic PRO12 win might not be a one-hit wonder.

Connacht in good heart for big double date with Wasps

Of course, it’s hard to gauge the value of a win over a Zebre side who have now lost all 14 games they have played in the Champions Cup and their hopes of a response after resting so many players last weekend and getting hammered 82-14 away to Wasps never looked like materialising in the rain at Stadio Lanfranchi yesterday.

At least the weather didn’t deteriorate beyond rain yesterday, unlike last month when their league tie was abandoned with Zebre leading 22-10 at the interval.

But that game last month now seems like something from a different age.

The pep has gone out of Zebre’s early promise, while Connacht are back displaying the sort of form which brought them to glory last season.

They will now go into December’s double date with Wasps with plenty of confidence after backing up their win over Toulouse by running in eight tries yesterday with the youngest side they have fielded this campaign.

Connacht had just five of the side which started the PRO12 final on duty from the outset and it was easy again to see why Leinster were so reluctant to lose Cian Kelleher. He slotted in at full-back yesterday and ran in two excellent tries.

But it was Stacey Ili who stole the show with Connacht’s first ever hat-trick in the Champions Cup on the 25-year old New Zealander’s first start.

Jack Carty also got in on the scoring act as well as setting up several more, including a brace for Ili.

“I’m really pleased for Stacey,” said Lam. “The thing I’m really pleased with is, yeah, he scored the tries, but it’s his fundamentals.

“When he arrived, all we want the players to do is to get into the system.

He’s an intelligent guy who just needed an opportunity. He’s able to fit in and more importantly again, he’s good off the field too and the boys have taken to him.”

Zebre were hopelessly out of their depth and stood no chance when hooker Olivero Fabiani was red-carded for biting Connacht lock Quinn Roux ten minutes from the break.

By then, Connacht were 14-0 in front after hitting the Italians for a brace of tries in a three-minute spell with Ili and Carty scoring, the latter after a big hit by Peter Robb in midfield. It took Connacht just over 11 minutes of the second-half to wrap up the bonus point.

A superb crosskick from Carty sent Ili over for his second try just over a minute after the restart.

Then a yellow card to centre Tommaso Castello meant it was 13 against 15 and it was no surprise when Connacht got the bonus point through a penalty try.

Connacht did not ease off and Kelleher and replacement prop Conor Carey also got in on the scoring act to push it out to 40-0.

Connacht’s hopes of keeping a clean sheet for the first time in 20 Champions Cup matches were dashed when replacement prop Tommaso D’Apice dived over for a converted try.

But Connacht finished strongly and Kelleher got his second try of the contest six minutes before Ili completed his hat-trick.

Scorers for Zebre:

Try: T d’Apice; Conversion: E Padovani.

Scorers for Connacht:

Tries: S Ili (3), C Kelleher (2), J Carty, C Carey, Penalty try; Conversions: C Ronaldson (5), S O’Leary (1).

ZEBRE:

E Padovani; G di Guilio, G Bisegni, T Castello, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; M Mbanda, J Meyer, D van Schalkwyk.

Replacements:

T d’Apice for Mbanda (33), G d’Onfrio for di Guilio (43), J Furno for Biagi (52), G Roan for Ceccarelli (55), G Palazzani for Violi (58), T Boni for Castello (59), F Ruzza for van Schalkwyk (63), B Postiglioni for Lovotti (66).

CONNACHT:

C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson, S Ili; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, S Delahunt, F Bealham; Q Roux, A Browne; S O’Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon.

Replacements:

C Carey for Cooney (43), D Heffernan for Delahunt (52), D Poolman for Adeolokun (55), C Blade for Marmion (57), S O’Leary for Ronaldson (57), E McKeon for Muldoon (58), U Dillane for Browne (59), JP Cooney for Bealham (72).

Referee:

Mathieu Raynal (FFR)

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