Zebre are looking to build on last week’s convincing victory over Isuzu Southern Kings with a trip to Ireland to take on Connacht at The Sportsground.
Connacht were edged out by Glasgow Warriors in a pulsating clash and will be keen to ensure they pick up their first triumph of the campaign.
What’s at stake?
It was a case of so near yet so far for Connacht last time out as they pushed the Warriors all the way in a 27-26 loss.
Finlay Bealham and Cian Kelleher crossed the whitewash for the province but a late Stuart Hogg drop goal clinched a win for the visitors.
And Connacht will be up against a Zebre side bang in form as they go in search of a fifth straight Guinness PRO14 victory.
The Italians were good value for their victory in Parma last time out – dotting down four times in a 32-16 win to put them second in Conference A.
Team news (Connacht):
It’s four changes for the hosts following narrow defeat to the Warriors as back row Sean O’Brien and lock Gavin Thornbury return from injury.
Centre Eoin Griffin and lock Quinn Roux, who both came off the bench last weekend, have also earned starting berths.
New signing Colby Fainga’a increases Connacht’s back-row options as he is named among the replacements for the visit of the Italians.
Team news (Zebre):
Matteo Minozzi’s serious knee injury suffered in the season opener has forced Zebre into making a change as Edoardo Padovani slots in at full-back.
There are three other alterations to the starting XV which includes centre Nicholas De Battista, who will be making his debut at No.12, Tongan flanker Matu Tevi and prop Giosue Zilocchi.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “We have picked a strong side again this week and I am satisfied that we are seeing some real competition in the squad.
“With the Eagles side playing Munster in the new Celtic Cup all of our available players will get game time this weekend.
“We are well aware of the challenge that Zebre pose. From what I have seen of them they are a big physical side who are well able to throw the ball around.
“We are expecting another big crowd in the Sportsground and a similar atmosphere to what we witnessed last weekend.”
Key battle – Cian Kelleher v Mattia Bellini
Mattia Bellini can often swing a match in Zebre’s favour, as seen in his magnificent spell last season for the club.
And the Italian international appears to be showing no signs of slowing down after notching up a try against the Isuzu Southern Kings last weekend.
His opposite number is Cian Kelleher, who has started the season in blistering form, scoring a try and making 141 metres against the Warriors.
Replicating that opening-day form could be the key to Connacht finding their first win over Zebre since March 2017.
Of the 18 matches between these two sides in all competitions, Connacht won the first 15, with Zebre winning the last three.
Did you know?
Zebre’s only previous victory away to an Irish province came in this equivalent fixture in Galway last season.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Kyle Godwin, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Conán O’Donnell, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Kieran Marmion, Craig Ronaldson, Niyi Adeolokun
ZEBRE: Edoardo Padovani, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Nicolas De Battista, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi, Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Giosué Zilocchi, David Sisi, George Biagi, Matu Tevi, Johan Meyer, Renato Giammarioli
Replacements: Massimo Ceciliani, Daniele Rimpelli, Roberto Tenga, Apisai Tauyavuca, Jimmy Tuivaiti, Guglielmo Palazzani, Francois Brummer, Tommaso Boni
TV: Premier Sports, TG4 and DAZN
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Finlay Brown (SRU), John Carvill (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Paul Boyle’s first two competitive tries for Connacht inspired them to a comfortable 32-13 bonus-point victory over in-form Zebre at the Sportsground.
The young back-rower crossed twice in the first 21 minutes as Connacht took control before scores from Caolin Blade, Eoin Griffin and Niyi Adeolokun after the break secured a first victory of the season and a four-try bonus point to boot.
Zebre were searching for a fifth straight Guinness PRO14 triumph – and had also won the last three fixtures between the sides – but Giulio Bisegni’s late consolation try was all they had to show from their trip to Galway.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) September 8, 2018
Connacht settled any nerves surrounding their recent poor record against Zebre as Jack Carty slotted an early penalty before they grabbed the first try of the game inside ten minutes.
Blade gathered a loose ball and broke into Zebre territory, the ball was worked to Boyle and the No.8 finished it off for his first competitive Connacht try – Carty adding the extras for a 10-0 lead.
Boyle clearly had a taste for the try-line and got his second halfway through the period as a rolling maul brought the Irish side up to the Zebre line and the young back-rower was on hand to dot down.
Carty was again perfect from the tee for a 17-0 lead but the Italians finally had their first try-scoring opportunity of the game shortly after as they burst into the home 22, although eventually settled for three points from in front of the sticks from Carlo Canna.
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) September 8, 2018
Zebre continued to press but the TMO ruled out a bundled try just before the break on review to ensure the Irishmen led 17-3 at half-time.
With Zebre down to 13 men early in the second half, after Giosue Zilocchi and Oliviero Fabiani were sin-binned, Connacht took advantage, dominating a scrum before Blade went down the blindside for the score.
Canna slotted a second penalty but Griffin secured the bonus point with 20 minutes still to play as he collected a pinpoint Carty grubber into the corner and touched down.
Adeolokun bundled home Connacht’s fifth try with ten minutes left, although Zebre at least had the final say when Bisegni went over at the death and Francois Brummer converted.