Match Page 2017-18 - Scoreboard WP ID: 132

Match Page 2017-18 - Last Time WP ID: 133

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Match Page 2017-18 - Last 3 Matches WP: 142

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Preview: Connacht vs Zebre

Luke Baker 15 Feb 2018

Two teams in the Guinness PRO14 Conference A will do battle on Friday evening as Connacht welcome Zebre to the Sportsground.

Connacht are unbeaten in their last three fixtures in all competitions since losing in Munster in the Guinness PRO14 on 6 January, while Zebre’s only two victories over the Irish side have come in their last two encounters.

The Italians will be looking for a first triumph at the Sportsground however as they have lost all eight previous visits to the stadium in all competitions.

What’s at stake?

Hosts Connacht will be looking to build on their encouraging win against Ospreys last time out and with third-placed Toyota Cheetahs ineligible for Europe, Connacht are battling it out with Cardiff Blues to grab the final automatic Champions Cup place in Conference A.

Connacht sit two places and 11 points ahead of their visitors, who will be looking to record a first Guinness PRO14 win for two months.

The Irish province are fifth, while Zebre are at the bottom of Conference A after 14 games – with just three wins to their name.

Team news (Connacht): Prop Finlay Bealham will make his 100th appearance in one of four changes from the side that beat Ospreys last week.

Darragh Leader comes in at full-back, Sean O’Brien starts at No.8 after a long-term shoulder injury, and lock Gavin Thornbury is also named in the XV.

Team news (Zebre): The Italians make five changes after losing 33-5 to Munster last time out.

Italy internationals Carlos Canna, Maxime Mbanda and Oliviero Fabiani all start after appearing off the bench against Ireland in the NatWest 6 Nations last weekend.

Winger Rory Peralta and lock James Tucker are also moved into the starting XV.

Talking points

Speaking about preparing for his 100th appearance for Connacht, Finlay Belham said: “To be in that bracket of players that have reached the ‘100 appearance’ milestone is something I’m really honoured to be a part of.

“From my family’s perspective, they’re really proud. To walk out there for the hundredth time in front of a Sportsground crowd in the great atmosphere they always create is something I’m really looking forward to.”

Key battle: Craig Ronaldson v Carlo Canna

Italy fly-half Carlo Canna will be desperate to prove a point to Conor O’Shea ahead of the country’s next NatWest 6 Nations fixture against France in Paris.

Canna has served as second-choice behind Tommaso Allan for the Azzurri, but an assured performance here could see him given a chance from the start.

Opposite number Craig Ronaldson has served at both centre and fly-half for Connacht this year. He will be looking to secure his spot in the side as Connacht look to climb the table over the remainder of the season.

Key stat

Zebre’s only victory since round 5 of the Guinness PRO14 was at home to Connacht on 2 December.

Did you know?

Zebre head coach Michael Bradley spent seven years coaching Connacht before moving on to the Georgian national team.

Connacht: Darragh Leader, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Caolin Blade, Denis Coulson, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, James Cannon, Eoghan Masterson, Naulia Dawai, Sean O’Brien (Capt).

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Pita Ahki.

Zebre: Ciaran Gaffney, Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Faialaga Afamasaga, Rory Parata, Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani, Cruze Ah-Nau, Oliviero Fabiani, Eduardo Bello, James Tucker, George Biagi (capt), Johan Meyer, Maxime Mbandà, Renato Giammarioli.

Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice, Andrea De Marchi, Dario Chistolini, David Sisi, Derick Minnie, Riccardo Raffaele, Serafin Bordoli, Giovanbattista Venditti.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scottish Rugby Union)

Assistant Referees: Lloyd Linton and Bob Nevins (Scottish Rugby Union)

TMO: Andy McMenemy (Scottish Rugby Union)

TV: Live on TG4

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Ticket prices start at just €35 for adults and €10 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Zebre end Connacht’s three game unbeaten run

Charlie Talbot-Smith 16 Feb 2018
George Biagi, Zebre Rugby

Zebre ended Connacht’s three-game unbeaten run in all competitions with a courageous display at the Sportsground.

The hosts were only a point behind at half time and ramped up the pressure in the second half, but Zebre tries from Gabriele Di Giulio and Andrea De Marchi were enough to secure a rare away win for the Italians.

Zebre head coach Michael Bradley, who spent seven years coaching Connacht, will be delighted with the fact his team have now done the double on the Irish outfit this season for the first time ever, having beaten them 24-10 back in December.

The game took a while to ignite, with a long stoppage causing a disjointed start after Zebre full-back and former Connacht player Ciaran Gaffney suffered a head injury and had to be stretchered off.

Connacht broke the deadlock after 15 minutes as Craig Ronaldson slotted a penalty, but it was the visitors who crossed the whitewash first.

Di Giulio cut a great line through the Connacht defence with a slicing run, then passed back inside to the supporting Renato Giammarioli to dive under the posts.

Carlo Canna added the extras and Zebre started to gain real momentum, with Di Giulio touching down in the corner after some great off-loads, only for Mike Adamson to disallow the try for a forward pass after consulting TMO.

It didn’t take long for Di Guilio to get on the scoresheet officially though, as Serafin Bordoli drew two Connacht defenders to create space for the winger to dive over just seven minutes after the break.

Zebre skipper George Biagi then charged down Kieran Marmion’s box kick on Connacht’s 22-line and off-loaded to De Marchi for the visitors’ third, converted once again by Canna.

Connacht stepped up the intensity seeking to close the gap, but Zebre’s defence was outstanding as they threw themselves onto every loose ball, stifling the hosts’ attack in order to protect their lead.

Indiscipline from the Italians almost led to a late comeback for Connacht as Maxime Mbanda was sent to the bin, and Darragh Leader took advantage of the extra space on the wing to touch down in the 72nd minute.

The visitors then went down to 13 in the final moments as Rory Parata was also yellow carded, but Connacht ran out of time for a dramatic comeback and Zebre stood firm to secure their first ever triumph at the Sportsground.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Ticket prices start at just €35 for adults and €10 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138