A frustrating season for Connacht ended with a typically indifferent display where they dominated Zebre for long periods but only just managed to avoid an embarrassing defeat as the Italians came with a late surge.
It was real end-of-season stuff from both teams with Zebre striking for two late tries but were unable to complete the comeback.
Connacht struggled to really stamp their superiority as they ended the inaugural URC campaign with nine win and nine losses, a 50% return which left them well short of Champions Cup qualification or a place in the quarter-finals Connacht dominated the opening but, typical of the inconsistency shown all season, they only led 17-8 at the break having coughed up a try in the final play of the opening period.
Zebre, with just one win all season, suggested initially they were in Galway to throw it around, but while Carlo Canna got them off the mark with a fifth minute penalty after a couple of good try chances were butchered, they lacked the strength and class to mount a serious challenge.
Cian Prendergast led the way as Connacht took control and three tries superbly worked off lineout moves had them firmly in control when they led 17-3 after 26 minutes.
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion got them motoring when the picked and dived in the left corner after seven minutes after Tom Daly and then Prendergast were stopped short.
Prendergast, starting at No.8, was also heavily involved in the second try with Niall Murray getting over while Eoghan Masterson brought his nine-year term at the Sportsground on a high note with their third try.
But Zebre hit back before the break when full-back Lorenzo Pani somehow managed to get through Tom Farrell, Alex Wootton and Oran McNulty to score in the right corner and cut the gap to nine at the break.
Connacht wrapped up the bonus point with a good sweeping move nine minutes after the restart with John Porch supplying a quality finish from deep.
All that remained to be decided after that, it seemed, was the margin of victory as both sides emptied their benches but Zebre had other ideas. They cut the gap 13 minutes from time when Matteo Nocera got in for a try.
And then they punished some dreadful defending as centre Enrico Lucchin bounced off tackles to score in the right corner, with Canna’s conversion leaving just two between them as Connacht hung on for an unconvincing win which summed up their season.
: Tries: K Marmion, N Murray, E Masterson, J Porch. Con: J Carty.
Tries: L Pani, M Nocera, E Lucchin. Con: C Canna Pen: Canna.
: O McNulty, J Porch, T Farrell (S Arnold 68), T Daly, A Wootton, J Carty (C Fitzgerald 52), K Marmion (C Reilly 50), D Buckley (M Burke 60), D Tierney-Martin (D Heffernan 60), F Bealham (S Illo 60), G Thornbury (U Dillane 61), N Murray, E Masterson (A Papali’i 62), S Masterson, C Prendergast.
L Pani; A Tuivuaka, F Smith (J Laloifi 63), E Lucchin, J Trulla; C Canna, C Casilio (A Fusco 59); D Fischetti (P Buonfiglio 60), L Bigi (G Ribaldi 53), E Bello (M Nocera 60), D Sisi, A Zambonin (L Krumov 59), L Andreani (R Vintcent 59), I Bianchi, T Fox-Matamua.
: Adam Jones (Wales)