Connacht secured the try bonus point in a clinical first half at the Sportsground that saw Matt Healy, Kieran Marmion, Eoin McKeon and Craig Ronaldson all cross for tries. Ronaldson kicked nine points before the break and Denis Buckley was over soon into the second half but it was a scrappy affair from then on with only an unconverted try from Zebre to complete the match scores.

A late starting replacement for the injured Jack Carty, outhalf Craig Ronaldson opened the scoring with a penalty on three minutes after Zebre were penalised for hands in the ruck. Less the five minutes later, the Kilkenny man set Healy up for the opening try when he collected a loose pass in his own 22 and kicked downfield for Healy to chip forward twice and chase to touch down on his 50th Connacht appearance. Ronaldson converted and the hosts led 10 – 0 inside the first 10 minutes.
Edoardo Padovani did reduce the deficit immediately for Zebre with a penalty but they were unable to sustain the pressure and on 21 minutes Connacht had their second try.

Bundee Aki booted the ball forward from inside his own half which Healy once again pounced upon before flicking up for Marmion to score, with Ronaldson’s extras making it 17-3.

And just six minutes later it was try number three as Connacht successfully executed the set piece, with Quinn Roux jumping for the ball following a five metre lineout and McKeon touching down for the try on the back of a driving maul.

Zebre continued to push hard and they got a reward on 35 minutes when a Connacht 10m defending line out was fumbled to give Zebre the ball which they worked out to winger Dion Berryman who went over, with outhalf Edoardo Padovani converting.

There was enough time for Pat Lam’s men to run in the fourth try before the break and it was made easier with the sin binning of Zebre prop Andrea Lavotti who was had been shown a yellow for pulling back Marmion by his shirt.  Ronaldson got the ball from the lineout and stepped his way past two defenders to go in under the posts for an easy conversion to make it 29-10.

Half time: Connacht 29 – 10 Zebre

Buckley was over for the fifth try just eight minutes in to the second half when another successful driving maul resulted in the loosehead prop touching down, although Ronaldson’s conversion came back off the right post.

Lam then rang the changes brining on most of the replacements while the intensity of the game dropped off and mistakes from both sides epitomised the half.

Conor McKeon was the last replacement to come on after 72 minutes – the Academy outhalf making his Sportsground debut and he was immediately required to turn his hand to defence as Zebre attacked late on.

The Italians went through phase after phase to fight their way to the line and flanker Johan Meyer eventually got over for the late score when Aki was sin binned for repeated infringements.

Full time: Connacht 34 – 15 Zebre

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)

Attendance: 3993

Man of the Match: Andrew Browne

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, Rory Parata, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion
Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, John Muldoon (captain), Nepia Fox-Matamua, Eoin McKeon

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conan O’Donnell, Finlay Bealham, Aly Muldowney, Eoghan Masterson, John Cooney, Conor McKeon, Darragh Leader

 

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