Connacht made a huge step towards the Guinness PRO14 Final Series with a 6-5 victory over Zebre.
Two penalties from Jack Carty separated the sides in a first half exemplified by some dogged defending from the hosts and when Mattia Bellini crossed with a powerful run just after the break, Connacht would have been fearing the worst.
A disallowed Connacht try with 25 minutes to go was followed by Zebre squandering two chances to take the lead from the tee as Andy Friend’s men consolidated third place in Conference A.
After a careless lineout from Zebre was stolen, Peter Robb earned a penalty for the Irish outfit early on with as brilliant break – the penalty was duly converted by the reliable Carty.
Connacht continued to attack with intensity and were rewarded once again when Carty slotted over another penalty.
Despite some fluid approach play, Carty’s ambitious pass out to the left wing was well intercepted by the Zebre defence some five yards from the try line as Connacht desperately searched for a first-half breakthrough.
However, it was the hosts who ended the half the stronger as they continued to blunt a typically rampant Connacht offence and carry out some speculative forays of their own.
The Italian side carried on where they left off after the break as some swift passing down the line allowed Mattia Bellini to drive over for his third try of the season to reduce the deficit to a single point.
Zebre’s resolve appeared to give Connacht a wake-up call, however, as they began to take control of the game and dominate possession.
After Robb eluded three Zebre defenders before offloading to Darragh Leader to dot down, it looked like the visitors had finally wore them down.
But upon review, the TMO ruled the initial line-breaking pass to Robb to have gone forward.
Having lost their first three lineouts of the game, Zebre turned the tables and stole one of their own deep in Connacht’s half – it was only some desperate defending from the visitors that held the ball up after it crossed the line.
A penalty on the hour presented Edoardo Padovani with a chance to give his side an unlikely lead, but his connection was poor as the ball sailed wide.
Guglielmo Palazzani had a second opportunity with just five minutes to go, but the pressure got the better of him.