Connacht - 33
Zebre - 3
It’s not quite like the six-match winning run this time last year which took Connacht all the way to the PRO12 crown, but this fourth win in a row gives Pat Lam’s men a fighting chance of securing Champions Cup qualification.
The constant rain in Galway throughout yesterday added an unwelcome factor to the equation for Connacht last night, but they dealt with the conditions and a poor Zebre side without enough precision to secure all five points.
The first meeting between these sides this season in Parma saw proceedings called off at half-time back in September — getting this fixture played last night on a sodden pitch was an achievement in itself.
It was crucial that Connacht got on top early given the conditions and they did that after seven minutes when Niyi Adeolokun got over for his fifth try of the campaign.
It came from a sustained bout of pressure which forced a 5m scrum and Connacht went wide through the half-backs John Cooney and debutant Steve Crosbie for Adeolokun to score in the right corner.
Cooney was on kicking duties and the scrum-half made no mistake from the right.
But Connacht had to be content with a 12-0 lead as Zebre dug in for the battle.
Eoin McKeon was sure he had nabbed a second after 24 minutes from a blockdown but he was adjudged to have impeded Zebre scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani on his run to the line.
However, the reprieve was brief for the Italians who were trying to prevent a ninth league loss in a row.
A quick throw from full-back Tiernan O’Halloran — a late call-up for Danie Poollman — saw the ball spun from the right through Crosbie and Stacey Ili for Naulia Dawai to skip through three feeble tackles to score. Cooney’s conversion hit the post and Connacht went in 12-0 up at the break, with Zebre skipper Valerio Bernabo just before the interval.
Connacht lived dangerously in the third quarter as Zebre came at them with the wind and rain at their backs and could have shredded the home lead after the restart if they were more clinical.
But while scrum-half Palazzani got them off the mark with a penalty from 25m in front of the posts, he missed a similar kick a few minutes later.
And then replacement prop Bart Le Roux got over but spilled the ball in the tackle as he tried to touch down after 54 minutes.
Lam sent on his skipper John Muldoon to sort things out and he duly obliged, tapping a penalty and driving over for their third try after 62 minutes following a superb break from Kieran Marmion, who had just returned from a HIA.
The bonus point came four minutes later through a penalty try as Connacht headed for the line following a good drive off a lineout and they completed the rout when Lewis Stevenson got their fifth try.
Scorers for Connacht:
Tries: N Adeolokun, N Dawai, J Muldoon, L Stevenson, Penalty try; Conversions: J Cooney, T O’Halloran, J Carty, C Ronaldson.
Scorers for Zebre:
Pen: G Palazzani.
T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, T Farrell, B Aki, S Ili; S Crosbie, J Cooney; R Loughney, T McCartney, D Robertson-McCoy; L Stevenson, A Browne; E McKeon, N Dawai, E Masterson.
K Marmion for Cooney (40), Cooney for Marmion (54), D Buckley for Loughney (54), F Bealham for Roberston-McCoy (54), J Muldoon for Masterson (57), Marmion for Cooney (59), J Carty for Crosbie (63), Q Roux for Browne (68), D Heffernan for McCartney (71), C Ronaldson for O’Halloran (71).
D Berryman; M Bellini, T Boni, T Castello, L Greeff; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo; M Cornelli, G Koegelenberg, F Ruzza.
B le Roux for Chistolini (49), J Furno for Bernabo (49), A de Marchi for Postiglioni (57), T d’Apice for Fabiani (59), M Pratichetti for Boni (59), M Archetti for Geldenhuys (67), C Engelbrecht for Berryman (71).
Marius Mitrea (FIR).
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