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.


Connacht team:


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

5: GavinThornbury

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

Irish international Ultan Dillane could make his 100th Connacht appearance on Sunday after he was named in the matchday 23 to face Zebre in the Guinness PRO14 (k/o 2.30pm Irish time).
Dillane is among the replacements for Andy Friend’s side, which shows six changes from the team that lost to Scarlets at The Sportsground last weekend. Dillane made his Connacht debut in December 2014 and was a starter in the Guinness PRO12 final 18 months later.
Meanwhile Sean O’Brien has ended a long injury absence to be handed his first starting jersey in nearly two years. The Galway native last started for Connacht in the 2018 Christmas interpro against Ulster, with his only appearance last season coming off the bench against Leinster in November before suffering serious shoulder and foot injuries.
O’Brien lines out in a new look back row with Sean Masterson at openside flanker and Jarrad Butler captaining the side from number 8.
Sean’s brother Eoghan is drafted into the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while there is a change of both props with Denis Buckley and Jack Aungier starting alongside hooker Shane Delahunt.
In the backs Colm Reilly and Jack Carty continue their half-back partnership, while Tom Farrell comes into the centre alongside Tom Daly with Sammy Arnold moving to the wing. Alex Wootton and John Porch complete the side.
Commenting ahead of the game, Head Coach Andy Friend said:
“While there was huge frustration and disappointment with last week’s result, we’ve parked that now and put all our focus and energy on picking up a win in Italy. Parma can be a tough place to go but first and foremost we need to return to the level performance I know we’re capable of.
I’d like to congratulate Ultan Dillane on potentially making his 100th appearance for Connacht, and I’m also delighted to welcome Sean O’Brien back in the side after his long layoff. I’ve seen first-hand the efforts he’s made to get back to full fitness, so his return is a big boost for us.”

Sunday 22nd November, Stadio Lanfranchi, kick-off 14:30 Irish / 15:30 local
15. John Porch (22)
14. Sammy Arnold (5)
13. Tom Farrell (61)
12. Tom Daly (29)
11. Alex Wootton (5)
10. Jack Carty (143)
9. Colm Reilly (2)
1. Denis Buckley (183)
2. Shane Delahunt (81)
3. Jack Aungier (5)
4. Eoghan Masterson (95)
5. Gavin Thornbury (43)
6. Sean O’Brien (57)
7. Sean Masterson (4)
8. Jarrad Butler (C) (60)
16. Jonny Murphy (8)
17. Paddy McAllister (13)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (55)
19. Ultan Dillane (99)
20. Abraham Papali’I (3)
21. Stephen Kerins (10)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (26)
23. Peter Sullivan (3)

By John O’Sullivan 


Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy says that Connacht will need to be efficient when close to the try line to win away to Zebre in Sunday’s 14:30 Guinness PRO14 kick-off. 


In the Westerners’ last outing, a 20-14 defeat at home to The Scarlets, they created ample chances to add to the two tries they scored but couldn’t add the finishing touches to moves, despite crossing the try line on four more occasions.


While Duffy is pleased that Connacht were able to create so many opportunities to score, especially in the wild weather that accompanied the clash with the Welshmen at the Sportsground, he said there will need to be greater attacking efficiency on display in Parma. 


“It’s something we would put a lot of emphasis on in our club,” the Galway native said when asked whether the rolling maul would be an area of the game where the visitors would look to impose themselves against the Italian’s on Sunday. 


“When you get to that zone(close to the line), it’s either that(the rolling maul) or your pick and go game that’s got to be strong. Because of the penalty sanctions around the breakdown, you must be efficient when you get your opportunities. Five metres out or seven metres out, your drive has to be efficient and the same with your close-knit game. They(Zebre) have a good maul as well, so both teams are focusing on those three or four key areas and it’s paying dividends at the moment.”


In the Scarlets’ defeat, Connacht’s two tries — dotted down by Abraham Papali’i and Ultan Dillane respectively — came from close confines near the try line after powerful carries from the pack to establish field position. While the loss was disappointing, Duffy was pleased with that, forward-oriented element of the game. 


“We work very hard in that area. We just have to keep maintaining the work and the effort in there. We scored two in that phase of play and in that style of play(against Scarlets) and we just knocked one over the line, it was just an individual error. Creation is the hardest part, but we’re creating. Converting is what we want to focus on this weekend,” the former Connacht player said.


Elsewhere, centre Tom Farrell says that the mood in the camp is positive ahead of the trip to the Italians, and last weekend’s defeat has been learned from and the players have moved on. 


The 27-year-old appeared off the bench in the 20-14 reversal to the Scarlets and says that he — along with the rest of the squad — is keen to make amends on Sunday.


“The mood is always positive, it’s an enjoyable place to be. Although we lost on the weekend, we’ll park it, we’ll move on and we’ll stay positive,” the former Bedford Blues man said. 

“We’ll trust our game plan and what the coaches have put in place for us”. 


Zebre were defeated heavily by Ulster 14-57 in their last game, but Farrell says the Italians — who may welcome back some of their Italian international contingent after the Fiji versus Italy Nations Cup game was called off — will prove to be tough opposition. 


“We’re fully aware of the challenge. They’ve had a mixed bag of results, but I don’t think the Ulster game is a fair reflection of the team they are. They beat the Ospreys and they ran the Scarlets pretty close. They have a really strong team and strong squad to put out, so we’re fully aware going over that this is a massive game for us, considering we lost points last week. We’re going to send a strong team over and look to do a job.”

Two Guinness PRO14 fixtures due to take place in Italy in Rounds 14 and 15 have been postponed due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the northern part of the country.
The Italian government has now extended restrictions on sporting events until April 3 and the latest travel alerts from the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advise against non-essential travel to certain regions of Italy, including Veneto and Emilia-Romagna.
Consequently, PRO14 Rugby has taken this action in order to protect the well-being of our participating clubs’ players, other staff and supporters, and provide some degree of certainty in an evolving situation. This decision is fully supported by the board of Celtic Rugby DAC.
The fixtures affected are:
Round 14: Benetton Rugby v Munster Rugby (originally scheduled for March 21)
Round 15: Zebre Rugby Club v Connacht Rugby (originally scheduled for March 28)
As none of these clubs are involved in EPCR competitions, PRO14 Rugby will aim to reschedule these matches on dates during the European weekends in April and May. PRO14 Rugby is currently engaged with EPCR to avoid any scheduling conflicts with European knock-out games.
Discussions are still on-going regarding the rescheduling of the postponed Round 13 fixtures – Zebre Rugby Club v Ospreys, and Benetton Rugby v Ulster Rugby.
As indicated on February 28 (click here), PRO14 Rugby has activated a live channel of communication with each of the Chief Medical Officers for each participating union who are providing the latest information, advice and requirements from national governments and health authorities in their respective territories.

Match Report courtesy of Pro14.org

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.


Connacht Head Coach Andy Friend has made a host of changes to the side that lost to Sale Sharks in the European Challenge Cup Quarter Final last weekend. His side travel to Zebre for a vital Guinness PRO14 clash on Saturday (Kick Off 5:30pm Irish time) – the result of which will have a huge bearing on Connacht’s hopes of reaching the knock out stages of the competition and ultimately qualifying for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Among those recalled is Captain Jarrad Butler at number 8, who comes into a back row alongside Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a at blindside and openside respectively.
Ireland international lock Ultan Dillane comes back into the second row alongside Gavin Thornbury, while in the front row, props Denis Buckley and Dominic Robertson-McCoy are selected alongside hooker Dave Heffernan.
Jack Carty and Caolin Blade form the half-back pairing, with Carty shaking off an arm injury that caused him to be withdrawn last weekend.
In the midfield, Peter Robb comes in for his third start of the season alongside the impressive Tom Farrell.
In the back three Tiernan O’Halloran is named at full-back with Matt Healy and Darragh Leader on the wings.
Ahead of the game, the Connacht Head Coach says that a win this weekend is vital as his side fight it out for a PRO14 playoff spot; “We have picked a strong side and a side capable of going to Zebre and winning the game. We are fully aware of the dangers that Zebre can present, particularly when they are at home. There are a number of our boys who were not involved in Europe last weekend, so they are coming back in fresh after that break and that brings more energy to the group”, Friend said.
On Connacht’s overall performance this season, Friend added; “We said all along that we want to be in the knockout stages of the PRO14 and with three games to go, our destiny is still in our own hands. If we keep winning we will be in that playoff spot so that is our sole focus away to Zebre on Saturday”.
Kick-off 5:30pm (Irish Time)
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (Capt).
Replacements (16-23): Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.

The Connacht squad trained in a wide variety of conditions this morning as preparations stepped up a gear for Saturday’s vital Guinness PRO14 clash with Zebre in Parma (k/o 5.30pm Irish time).
Andy Friend’s squad make the trip sitting in 3rd place in Conference A, with just points difference separating Connacht and the Cardiff Blues in the race for the playoffs and Heineken Champions Cup rugby.
Check out some of the best pics from this morning’s session at The Sportsground.

After a disappointing Challenge Cup exit over the weekend, all eyes are now firmly set on a pivotal final three fixtures in the Guinness PRO14 as Connacht aim to book a place in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

First up is Zebre this weekend in Parma, with Andy Friend’s side making the trip to Italy knowing a win would send them one step closer to the knockout stages.

Here’s everything you need to know about the clash.

When’s the game?

Kick-off at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi is at 5.30pm Irish time / 6.30pm Italian time this Saturday 6th April.

How’s our recent record against them?

The two sides last met in Round 2 of this year’s Championship when Connacht secured a bonus point 32-13 win at The Sportsground. Man-of-the-match Paul Boyle scored two tries while Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin and Niyi Adeolokun also got in on the act.

However Connacht have lost their last two trips to Parma in the past two seasons, so the squad will be hoping it’s third time lucky this time around.

What’s the state of play in the race for the playoffs?

Only a score difference of six points separates Connacht and Cardiff Blues in the race for the 3rd playoff spot in Conference A, with both sides sitting on 52 points. With the two teams meeting in Galway on Saturday week, Connacht know three wins from the final three games will guarantee a place in the quarter-finals. A playoff spot could also be sealed next week if Cardiff were to lose away to Munster this weekend and Connacht pick up wins in the next two weekends.

How will the two teams line up?

The Connacht management team will announce their squad at 12pm on Friday when it will be named on connachtrugby.ie and the Connacht Rugby social channels.

How can I watch it?

There will be live TV coverage of the game on Eir Sport 1 with build-up beginning at 5pm. There will also be highlights on TG4 from 9.55pm.

Where can I buy tickets?

If you plan on heading over, please note that tickets are on sale directly from Zebre Rugby and can be bought HERE.

Match Preview from pro14rugby.org

Another crucial Conference A clash. This time we face Zebre at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi for the first time this season. We currently sit fifth with Zebre sixth in Conference A.


TV: TG4 from 1.10pm.
Twitter: Follow our live commentary from Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Twitter at #ZEBvCON
Match centre:
Follow in game stats through our match centre.


What’s at stake? Zebre’s comeback victory over Ulster in Round Five was the highlight in an otherwise tricky season, losing their last four league matches.

But a victory would trim the gap to Connacht who are six points ahead of the Italians in the standings.

Similarly, Connacht’s season has been marred by inconsistency but they have won two of their last three matches including impressive victories over Munster and the Toyota Cheetahs.

A win for Connacht could see them leapfrog Cardiff Blues in the table and trim the gap to third-placed Cheetahs


Team news (Zebre): The return of nine internationals to the Zebre squad should give them the boost they need to take on the Irish province.

There is also good news on the injury front with David Sisi and George Biagi return to the squad. Baigi will captain the side against Connacht.


Team news (Connacht): Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki among his starting XV for the first time.

Keane has also going for a new half back pairing with Steve Crosbie lining up alongside Kieran Marmion at scrum half following his return from international duty. In the pack Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries against Cardiff, starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.


Talking points: Head coach Kieran Keane said: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take two points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.”
“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them.”


Key Battle: Giulio Bisegni v Tom Farrell

Giulio Bisegni has been a rock for the Zebre side so far this season and was impressive again in the defeat to Munster.

The centre dotted down in the 35th minute but couldn’t prevent a 36-19 defeat. However with internationals returning around him, Bisegni could be a key cog in the Zebre machine.

Tom Farrell has enjoyed a consistent run in the Connacht line up and has been impressive throughout the season.
The 24-year-old has more offloads than anyone else in the league and has also made 329 metres so far in this campaign.
Did you know? Zebre secured one of only three wins last season when they beat Connacht 25-22 the last time the Irish province travelled to Parma.


Key Stat: No player has more offloads in the Guinness PRO14 so far this season than Thomas Farrell (23).


Zebre: Matteo Minozzi, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, Giovanb, attista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi, Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Dario Chistolini, Leonard Krumov, George Biagi, Maxime Mbandà, Johan Meyer, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Cruze Ah-Nau, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi, Jacopo Sarto, Guglielmo Palazzani, Serafin Bordoli, Ciaran Gaffney


Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion, Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon
Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.


Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
AR1: Sean Gallagher (IRFU) AR2: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR) TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)


We return to European action next weekend away to Brive followed by a return leg at home in the Sportsground.




Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane has included new signing Pita Ahki among his starting XV to face Zebre on Saturday (K.O. 1:15pm Live on TG4). Ahki who came off the bench to make his debut against Cardiff last week, will make his first start for the province as they travel to Italy for the PRO14 clash.


The Connacht side features a new half back pairing with Steve Crosbie starting at out-half and Kieran Marmion back at scrum half following his return from international duty. In the pack Shane Delahunt, who scored two tries against Cardiff starts at hooker where he is flanked by Denis Buckley at loosehead and Finlay Bealham at tighthead.


Academy player and Sligo native Cillian Gallagher, who made his debut against Worcester in October, is named among the replacements. Ahead of the clash, Connacht Head Coach Kieran Keane, spoke about the importance of getting a result against the Italians: “While we were disappointed not to beat Cardiff last week, I was proud of the boys and the way they battled to take 2 points from the game. In this competition it is really important to do well against teams in our conference.”

“We will face a big challenge against Zebre on Saturday. They have made it difficult against a lot of teams so far this season particularly when they are at home. We will need to be at our best to beat them” added Keane.




Kick-off 1.15pm (Irish Time):

(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Pita Ahki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Steve Crosbie, Kieran Marmion,

(1-8) Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, James Connolly, John Muldoon (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Cillian Gallagher, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Jack Carty, Eoin Griffin.




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