Connacht came to Parma this weekend needing at least a win to keep hopes of Champions Cup qualification alive.

But Pat Lam’s men had secured the important fourth try bonus point after 56 minutes at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi and went on to record a comprehensive six-try, 40 – 10 victory in humid conditions.

John Cooney (2), Matt Healy, Eoghan Masterson, Tiernan O’Halloran and Shane O’Leary all crossed the whitewash while out halves Jack Carty and Conor McKeon kicked nine and four points respectively.

In the hunt for a record 10th PRO12 season win, Connacht had the chance to get on the board early with a penalty in the sixth minute but Jack Carty’s attempt sailed wide of the posts.

But the Athlone man didn’t have to wait long for another chance from the tee as Healy broke following a lineout steal and the ball found its way to his former school mate Cooney who crashed over. Carty made no mistake with the conversion.

It was 15 minutes later that the hosts responded with a Brandon Leonard try, which Luciano Orquera converted to level the scores after 26 minutes.

But it wasn’t long until Connacht were back in the lead after a strong hit from Ireland international Robbie Henshaw  turned the ball over in midfield to let Healy break away at speed from the half-way mark and score under the posts – Carty converting.

Orquera’s 33rd minute penalty brought the Italians to within four but Academy lock Ultan Dillane produced a brilliant pass to set up Cooney who raced over after 35 minutes to make it 19-10 and Carty added another two to give his side a comfortable lead at the break.

Half time: Zebre 10 – 21 Connacht

The intensity continued into the second half with Connacht doing well to keep Zebre under pressure started and pin them back in their own 22 early on.

But the Zebre defence held on and repelled the visitors’ determination for a fourth try. However, Lam’s men remained resolute and launched wave after wave of attack. Eventually on 56 minutes they had their reward when they kicked for the corner and set up a solid driving maul which saw Academy flanker Eoghan Masterson touch down for his second PRO12 try of the season. After converting the previous three scores, this one just shaved the upright and crept narrowly wide for Carty.

The coaching team started to empty the bench as Connacht held a commanding lead and just after the hour mark they found themselves with a temporary one-man advantage when prop Luca Redolfini was shown yellow for throwing punches at replacement hooker Dave Heffernan.

The men in green made it count when a defending scrum allowed the ball to pop up for sub scrum half to break free and race from one 22 to the other. Full back Tiernan O’Halloran showed wonderful support lines and took the offload to run in the fifth try. Conor McKeon kicked his first senior points for the province with the conversion kick.

There were more celebrations in the final 10 minutes when Shane O’Leary, after only a minute on the pitch, spotted a gap and finished a well-worked move to score under the posts for his side’s final try of the evening. McKeon converted again to finish the game.

Full time: Zebre 10 – 40 Connacht

Man of the Match: John Cooney

Referee: Ian Davies

 

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