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Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Avatar Joe Leavey 5 Apr 2019

With just three rounds of Guinness PRO14 Conference action remaining, Connacht head to Parma to face Zebre in a clash between sides with varying concerns.

The Irish province have strong Finals Series hopes, sitting third in Conference A, just ahead of Cardiff Blues, while Zebre are down in seventh.

What’s at stake?

For Connacht, potentially a spot in the post-season in the Guinness PRO14.

Their 52 points before the weekend’s play leaves them 11 off rivals Munster in second, but level with the Blues.

A win, therefore, could prove vital as they look to hold off the attentions of the Welsh outfit and reach their firstFinals Series since they won the whole thing back in 2016.

While Zebre’s Finals Series hopes have been off the cards for a while, they will nevertheless be keen to end the season on a high.

Without a win since October, how they would love to claim the scalp of a high-flying side who are bang in form.

Team news (Zebre)

The hosts have made four changes to the side that gave Munster a scare last time out.

In comes Mattia Bellini on the right wing, with Francois Brummer and Joshua Renton the new half-backs.

The final alteration is in the pack, with Marco Ciccioli set to make his Zebre debut at tight-head.

Team news (Connacht)

Andy Friend welcomes back a plethora of senior bodies for the trip to Emilia-Romagna, with skipper Jarrad Butler coming back in at no.8.

He is partnered in the back row by Eoin McKeon and Colby Fainga’a, while in front of them Irish international Ultan Dillane starts at lock with Gavin Thornbury.

Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy and hooker Dave Heffernan complete the pack.

Jack Carty returns to the XV after sustaining an arm injury in last weekend’s win over Benetton, with Caolin Blade completing the half-back pairing.

Peter Robb makes his third start of the season in the midfield, with Tom Farrell alongside him, while Tiernan O’Halloran gets the nod at full back, flanked by Matt Healy and Darragh Leader.

Talking points

Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “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.

“We said all along that we want to be in the knockout stages of the Guinness 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.”

Key battle – Tom Farrell v Giulio Bisegni

Having named a much-changed team, Andy Friend will be relying on his stars to shine in what is set to be a vital outing for Connacht.

And there are few stars that shine so bright amongst their ranks than Tom Farrell, whose standout performances so far this season have led to calls for Ireland recognition.

Italy international Bisegni will have his hands full if he is to keep the 25-year-old quiet.

Did you know? Connacht have lost just once in the last four rounds of the Guinness PRO14, 17-43 at Glasgow Warriors on 22 February.

Key stat – Zebre’s only two victories over Irish opponents since September 2017 were both against Connacht.

Zebre: Edoardo Padovani, Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, James Elliott, Francois Brummer, Joshua Renton; Andrea Lovotti, Oliviero Fabiani, Marco Ciccioli, David Sisi, George Biagi (c), Jimmy Tuivaiti, Maxime Mbandà, Renato Giammarioli

Replacements: Massimo Ceciliani, Daniele Rimpelli, Giosué Zilocchi, Leonard Krumov, James Brown, Guglielmo Palazzani, Nicolas De Battista, Gabriele Di Giulio

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c)

Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher

TV: At Stadio Lanfranchi, Parma, 6.30pm. Live on TG4, DAZN, eir Sport

Referee: Ben Blain (SRU, 2nd competition game)

Assistant Referee: Keith Allen (SRU), Andrea Spadoni (FIR)

TMO: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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

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Carty inspires nervy Connacht win against spirited Zebre

Avatar Guinness PRO14 Rugby Editor 6 Apr 2019

Connacht took a huge step towards the Guinness PRO14 Final Series with a nervy 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.

And the Italian side carried on where they left off after the break as some swift passing down the line allowed Bellini to drive over for his third try of the season to reduce the deficit to a single point. Edoardo Padovani was off-target with the conversion.

Zebre’s resolve appeared to give Connacht a wake-up call, however, as they began to take control of the game and dominate possession.

And after the excellent 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 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.

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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