Connacht got the result, but not the performance they required in this fraught win over Michael Bradley’s Zebre.
Nevertheless, it was enough to stay on course for a PRO14 knockout spot and a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
The Italians, without a win in the competition since October, defended stoutly but despite keeping their line intact for the first time since the Cork man took charge two seasons ago, they fell to a 12th defeat in succession.
The primary reason for their defeat is that Zebre, in the absence of Italian out-half Carlo Canna whose season ended in injury at Munster, lacked a place-kicker and squandered eight points.
“If we kicked the ball between the posts, we’d have won and there would be a totally different feeling inside our dressing room,” said Bradley.
Connacht coach Andy Friend said he wasn’t going to get too hung up on the performance, as the result keeps them in control of their destiny. Not since 2001 have Connacht won in the competition by scoring just six points, but two Jack Carty penalties in the opening quarter were enough to see them through.
In the absence of Canna, Edoardo Padovani missed a run of scores in the second half and Guglielmo Palazzani missed a penalty from halfway in the closing minutes.
The only try came three minutes after the break when Italian winger Mattia Bellini got over, with Connacht’s closest effort coming after 55 minutes but Darragh Leader’s touchdown was ruled out after Tom Daly’s pass to Peter Robb in the build-up was adjudged forward.
Connacht face Cardiff at the Sportsground on Saturday where victory will secure a play-off spot for the first time since in 2016 and also ensure Heineken Champions Cup rugby next season.
“That is what we set out to achieve,” said Friend. “We are close but we are not there.”
Zebre scorers: Try: M Bellini.
Connacht scorers: Pens: J Carty (2).
ZEBRE: E Padovani; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; F Brummer, J Renton; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, M Ciccioli; D Sisi, G Biagi; J Tuivaiti, M Mbandà, R Giammarioli.
Replacements: J Brown for Tuivaiti (inj) (21), D Rimpelli for Lovotti (59), G Zilocchi for Ciccioli (61), G Palazzani for Renton (66), M Ceciliani for Fabiani (71), L Krumov for Biagi (71).
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, P Robb, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, D Robertson-McCoy; U Dillane, G Thornbury; E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler.
Replacements: K Marmion for Blade (HIA) (17), Blade for Marmion (25), T Daly for Farrell (inj) (28), Farrell for Daly (40), Daly for Farrell (44), R Copeland for McKeon (56), K Marmion for Blade (56), P McCabe for Buckley (59), C O’Donnell for Robertson-McCoy (61), S Delahunt for Heffernan (62), C Kelleher for Healy (62), J Maksymiw for Thornbury (66).
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland).