Zebre 12-47 Connacht
By John O'Sullivan
Connacht returned to winning ways in the Guinness PRO14 after a 47-12 victory away to Zebre.
The visitors, through Sean O'Brien, a brace from both Tom Daly and Alex Wootton, Sammy Arnold as well as eight points from the boot of Jack Carty and a penalty try, scored seven tries in a performance of accurate attacking and stout defending at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The win wasn't the only positive as O'Brien -- after almost two years out of action with injuries -- returned to playing and Ultan Dillane made his 100th appearance for the Westerners with a second-half cameo off the bench to cap a great days work for Andy Friend and his squad.
It was the hosts who enjoyed the better start, however, and they had a try in the opening minutes when Tommaso Boni -- running an intelligent trail line to collect an offload -- dotted down for a try. Antonio Rizzi added the extras to put the Italians into a 7-0 lead.
Connacht reacted well to the concession of the try and grew into the game quickly, with Guinness Player of the Match Colm Reilly and Carty managing proceedings well. With the territory given to them by the half-backs, the visitors added two penalties from Carty to reduce Zebre's lead to one point.
In the ascendancy in terms of territory and pressure, the Sportsground men were rewarded when O'Brien barged his way over the line, bursting through two would-be tackles, for Connacht's first try. After a rolling maul, Shane Delahunt made significant headway with a carry and O'Brien followed suit by picking from the base and powering over. The conversion went narrowly wide, but the visitors were deserving of their try and their 11-7 lead.
The Italians went in chase of their second try of the half, but their efforts were foiled by excellent interventions from Eoghan Masterson -- who expertly stole a Zebre line out deep in the Connacht 22 -- and John Porch, whose brilliantly timed tackle prevented what could have been a try for the hosts.
It was Connacht, and not the Italians -- whose every effort was repelled by the visitors' strong defence -- who showed their efficiency in attack, who closed the half out with tries, with two coming in quick succession.
Wootton, after Reilly's searing break and Porch's sharp pass, crossed for a well-worked team try and then the winger -- as the hosts attacked once more -- went the length of the pitch after intercepting Rizzi's pass five metres from his own line to score. Carty converted the latter to see Connacht lead 23-7 at the break.
The Westerners started the second half in a similar fashion as they ended the first and they had a try not long after the interval when Arnold -- with Connacht playing with an advantage -- powered over in the right-hand corner. The conversion drifted narrowly wide, but the Irishmen had built a commanding 7-28 lead.
Flexing their attacking muscles, another try would soon come from Connacht, again in the right-hand corner. This time it was Daly, showing remarkable strength to power through tackles, who wriggled over the line to take the score to 7-33.
Connacht made a host of changes thereafter -- including the introduction of Dillane for his 100th cap for the province -- and were reduced to 14 men when Abraham Papali'i was shown a red card for a high tackle. Zebre took advantage of the extra man almost straight away when hooker Marco Manfredi scored a try which Rizzi failed to convert.
The visitors would have the last say, however, with two more tries. First, a penalty try was awarded when a powerful rolling maul was dragged down. Then Daly completed his brace of tries after collecting Conor Fitzgerald's kick through to touch down and seal a fantastic win and day for Connacht.
15: John Porch
14: Sammy Arnold
13: Tom Farrell
12: Tom Daly
11: Alex Wootton
10: Jack Carty
9: Colm Reilly
8: Jarrad Butler
7: Sean Masterson
6: Sean O'Brien
4: Eoghan Masterson
3: Jack Aungier
2: Shane Delahunt
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Paddy McAllister for Buckley, Jonny Murphy for Delahunt, Dominic Robertson McCoy for Aungier, Ultan Dillane for Thornbury, Abraham Papali'i for Masterson, Peter Sullivan for Farrell, Kerins for Reilly, Fitzgerald for Carty