Zebre 10 Connacht 40: It has been a season like no others. With a new record of 10 wins and currently leaders in the disciplinary stakes, Connacht will still be fighting on the last day of the Guinness Pro12 season for Champions Cup rugby.
Saturday’s victory at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi was all about keeping their seasonal ambitions, achieving another milestone, and coping with the pressure of a must-win game.
Contrast that with Zebre. An emotional farewell for Italian icon Mauro Bergamasco — whose face fluttered on hundreds of specially produced flags for the occasion — failed to produce a victory that would have seen the Parma outfit overtake their rivals Treviso. However the challenges for Pat Lam’s Connacht side continue against Ospreys on Saturday and another must-win encounter.
“The boys did the job they needed to do in Parma, and now it’s important to have a good build-up for this massive occasion,” he says. “I am aware from everybody who has been here, how big this is, to go to the last round of the Pro12 with so much riding on the result. Ospreys, who beat Glasgow, are coming, but we are now ahead of Edinburgh, while the Scarlets still have to win in Treviso, which is not easy.”
As expected, Zebre, particularly through their pack and dangerous full-back Dion Berrymore, made life difficult for Connacht in the opening hour. And although Connacht led at half-time by 21-10, it took until the 56th minute when bagging the fourth try bonus point before they could finally shake off the Italians. Left-wing Matt Healy, whose scorching run supplied scrum-half John Cooney for the first try.
Zebre, despite some woeful handling, had their moments in that opening half, particularly from their scrum. Their efforts provided the platform for centre Gonzalo Garcia to break through the cover before scrum-half Brendan Leonard opened their account and out-half Luciano Orquera had made it all square with his conversion early on.
Healy grabbed the second Connacht try after a trademark bone-crunching tackle from Robbie Henshaw turned over possession, and before the break Cooney bagged his second from a rehearsed set piece lineout, with out-half Jack Carty adding all conversions.
Zebre’s determination petered out after the Connacht pack came to the fore after the restart. Once open side Eoghan Masterson touched down from a forward drive on 56 minutes, the result was not in doubt. The bench then made its impact. Kieran Marmion’s end-to-end attack was finished by Tiernan O’Halloran. Shane O’Leary, a late bench replacement for Darragh Leader who injured his hand in training, grabbed try number 6, and both were converted by Academy player Conor McKeon in his first start.
T O’Halloran, D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy, J Carty, J Cooney, D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You, U Dillane, A Muldowney, J Muldoon (cpt), E Masterson, E McKeon.
K Marmion for Cooney (48m), A Browne for Dillane (52m), G Naoupu for McKeon (56m), C McKeon for Carty and JP Cooney for Buckley (both 60m), F Bealham for Ah You (62m), S O’Leary for Aki (72m).
D Berryman, G Venditti, M Pratichetti, G Garcia, M Visentin, L Orquera, B Leonard, M Aquero, A Manici, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo, P Cristiano, M Bergamasco (cpt), A Van Schalkwyk.
M Bergamasco for Pratichetti (52m), L Redolfini for Chistolini (56m), G Palazzani for Berryman(59m), A de Marchi for Aguero (60m), J Sarto for Cristiano (66m), O Fabiano for Manici (72m), A Mahu for Chistolini (74m).
I Davies (WRU).
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