Bonus-point win over Zebre

03 March 2017

Bonus-point win over Zebre
Connacht 33-3 Zebre

Connacht made it four wins on the spin in very difficult conditions thanks to a bonus-point 33-3 win over Zebre at the Sportsground.

First-half tries from Niyi Adeolokun and Naulia Dawai, one of which was converted by John Cooney, gave Connacht a 12-0 lead after a dominant first 40.

After a slow start to the second period, replacement John Muldoon dived over following a quick tap just after the hour before a penalty try four minutes later secured the bonus point.

Lewis Stevenson scored a fifth try late on to add the gloss to a scoreline after a superb night’s work for Pat Lam’s side.

With incessant rain falling throughout the day, it was a great credit to the Connacht groundstaff that the game went ahead at all. With the reverse fixture in Italy having been called off at half-time due to adverse weather conditions, it looked for a period as if tonight’s clash would go the same way but the game was given the go-ahead and Connacht made the most of the opportunity.

With only a five-day turnaround following the bonus-point win in Treviso, the starting XV featured just three players that started in Italy – Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Bundee Aki.

O’Halloran was a late inclusion in place of Danie Poolman with Jack Carty coming into the 23.

Tom McCartney captained the side in place of John Muldoon, who was among the replacements, and Eoghan Masterson was given a warm welcome back to the first team after 12 months out with a serious knee injury,

After getting a rousing reception from the home fans, Connacht made an excellent start with an early Adeolokun break setting the hosts up in Zebre territory.

Centre Tom Farrell was held up just short minutes later as the Westerners piled on the early pressure. It soon told as out-half Steve Crosbie marked his first start with an assist as his skipped pass to Adeolokun was brilliantly finished by the winger in the right corner.

In very difficult kicking conditions, John Cooney landed the touchline conversion and Connacht led 7-0 with eight minutes gone.

With Connacht well on top and eager for more scores, Zebre found themselves on the back foot from thereon and Connacht were unlucky to see an Eoin McKeon try chalked off by the TMO.

Connacht didn’t have to wait long for that second try though as a quick lineout by O’Halloran to Stacey Ili was spread out to Naulia Dawai and he fended off one defender and sidestepped another before diving over in the corner for a magnificent score. Cooney very nearly did the trick from the touchline again but his effort came back off the post and Connacht led 12-0 with 27 minutes on the clock.

To their credit, Zebre fought back strongly and having worked their way into position in the left corner, looked primed to touch down. But the Connacht defence held firm with Crosbie making a big tackle on no.8 Federico Ruzza off a five-yard scrum.

Normal service was resumed afterwards and Connacht battered away at the Zebre line as half-time approached. The visitors were reduced to 14 when captain Valerio Bernabo was yellow carded but the determined Italians refused to yield and Connacht led 12-0 at the break.

Half-time: Connacht 12-0 Zebre

Cooney was replaced by Kieran Marmion at the break and the visitors were soon off the mark thanks to a simple Guglielmo Palazzini penalty on 44 minutes. The scrum-half was off target with a second penalty four minutes later as the visitors gained the upper hand.

With the conditions worsening, Connacht were unable to gain a foothold in the Zebre half and the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Masterson as he came off to rapturous applause after a successful return to action.

His replacement was Muldoon and the Connacht captain got the ball rolling again as he touched down after catching the Zebre defence napping with a quick tap and dive for the line.

Marmion was the man to set up the field position after an electric break and O’Halloran added the conversion to make it 19-3.

That was the spark that reignited Connacht and the bonus-point try was secured on 65 minutes with referee Marius Mitrea awarding a penalty try after a Connacht maul was dragged down just short of the line.

Replacement Jack Carty added the simple conversion and Connacht led 26-3 with the bonus-point in the bag.

Stevenson barged over from close-range late on with replacement Craig Ronaldson adding the extras to round off a very satisfying night’s work.

Connacht: T O’Halloran (C Ronaldson, 70); N Adeolokun, B Aki, T Farrell, S Ili; S Crosbie (J Carty, 63), J Cooney (K Marmion, 40); R Loughney (D Buckley, 53), T McCartney ( D Heffernan, 70), D Robertson-McCoy (F Bealham, 53); L Stevenson, A Browne (Q Roux, 67); E McKeon, N Dawai, E Masterson (J Muldoon, 56).

Zebre: D Berryman; M Bellini, T Boni, T Castello, L Greeff; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo (capt); M Cornelli, G Koegelenberg, F Ruzza.

Replacements: T D'Apice, A De Marchi, B Le Roux, J Furno, M Archetti, C Engelbrecht, M Pratichetti, G Roan.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)