Match Page 2017-18 - Scoreboard WP ID: 132

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

Match Page 2017-18 - Current Standing WP: 134

Match Page 2017-18 - H2H WP: 136

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

Match Page 2017-18 - Season so Far WP:141

In-form Connacht seek key win at Zebre

Guinness PRO14 Rugby Editor 28 Mar 2017
Eoin McKeon

Zebre welcome Connacht at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchini on Saturday afternoon in a rearranged Round Three Guinness PRO12 game that could take the Irish side closer to the top half of the table.

Connacht enter the match in strong form with four wins from five matches. However, given that Zebre were leading the reigning champions 22-10 when the original fixture was suspended, the Italian side will feel they can overcome them once again.

What’s at stake?

Connacht have benefited from playing all of the bottom three teams, Benetton Treviso, Newport Gwent Dragons and Zebre, in recent months but their winning run was ended by a Glasgow Warriors team full of returning internationals last weekend.

With five games left to play, Connacht’s chances of qualifying for the European Champions Cup are slim, making a win this weekend is essential.

Pat Lam’s men are hanging on to seventh place above Cardiff Blues and this game-in-hand is the perfect opportunity to extend their one-point advantage over the Welshmen.

Zebre have won one Guinness PRO12 game this season, a surprise win over Edinburgh Rugby at Murrayfield in October.

The Italian side’s main objective for the end of the season will be to catch Italian rivals Treviso, just six points ahead of them.

Zebre team news

Victor Jimenez has made seven changes to the side that faced Munster, with seven Italian internationals returning after being rested last weekend.

In all, there are ten Azzurri in the match-day 23 with six in the pack and the rest featuring in the backline.

Maxime Mbanda and Dries Van Schalkwyk remain unavailable due to injury but Italy’s Andrea Lovotti, Tommaso D’apice and Dario Chistolini play together in club colours once more in the front row.

Fellow international George Biagi will captain Zebre from the second row while Carlo Canna will kick things off in Parma at fly-half.

Connacht team news

The Connacht starting XV sees five changes as Irish internationals Tiernan O’Halloran and Kieran Marmion take a scheduled rest week.

After getting his first cap against Glasgow Warriors, Josh Rowland will now have his first start at full-back, with John Cooney at scrum-half and Danie Poolman on the right wing.

Tom Farrell and Bundee Aki link up in the midfield for the first time and Eoin McKeon is the only change in the pack, coming in for an injured Jake Heenan at flanker.

Eoin Griffin awaits his first appearance in six months from the bench, while Niyi Adeolokun, JP Cooney and Ronan Loughney are all unavailable due to injury.

Talking points

Connacht coach Lam assured fans that the squad changes, due to injuries sustained in training, will not affect the scoreboard.

He said: “We have had to make a few changes this week due to unfortunate niggles picked up in training.

“But we’re going over to Parma with a clear game plan. We are fully focussed on putting in a performance against Zebre that will get us the points on offer.”

Key battle: Lloyd Greeff v Bundee Aki

Lloyd Greeff will have a big job on his hands on Saturday as he tries to keep a lid on Bundee Aki in the midfield.

Aki moves in from the wing this weekend, but will continue to seek holes in the opposition defence as always.

The pair have each scored one try for their teams this season, but the Kiwi has consistently made the Connacht attack look more threatening in his 11 appearances for the side.

At 26, Aki has more experience than 23-year-old Greeff, but the South African has been on a similar path to his opposite number.

Both joined the Guinness PRO12 from Super Rugby, though Aki made the move two years earlier with Greeff enjoying a strong first season in Italy.

Key stat

Zebre have not beaten an Irish Province since winning 13-6 against Ulster in Parma in September 2014.

Did you know?

Connacht have faced Zebre three times since October 2016, with the Irish side racking up 151 points over all three encounters.

Zebre top points scorer: Carlo Canna 67pts. Top try scorers: Dries Van Schalkwyk and Giovanbattista Venditti 4

Connacht top points scorer: Jack Carty 77pts. Top try scorer: Niyi Adeolokun 6

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:

Played 9, Connacht won 9.

At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 3.30pm local time (2.30pm Ireland & UK)
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU, 6th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Graeme Wells (SRU), Emanuele Tomo (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Roberto Carra (FIR)

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final

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 defeat Connacht for first home win

Andrew Lawton 1 Apr 2017

Zebre recorded their first home win of the season with a 25-22 victory over Connacht in their re-arranged Round Three fixture in Parma.

Tries from Stacey Ili and Craig Ronaldson had Connacht two tries to the good after just 13 minutes but Zebre were ahead by half-time after Derick Minnie’s try and two Carlo Canna penalties.

Tommaso Boni and Edoardo Padovani added second half tries for the hosts who earned their first win over an Irish opponent since September 2014.

Connacht took no time at all to get the first score of the game as Josh Rowland broke the Zebre defensive line before offloading to Ili to touch down for an unconverted try.

Canna reduced the deficit after eight minutes with a 40m penalty as Ronaldson was brought on to replace the try-scorer Ili.

And the substitute made an instant impact as wing Danie Poolman burst through before feeding Ronaldson to score a try with his first touch of the game.

Conney converted and the visitors led 12-3 with 16 minutes on the clock and they nearly extended their advantage only for Andrew Browne to be held up over the Zebre tryline.

Flanker Minnie brought the hosts right back into the game though ten minutes later with Zebre’s first try of the game and Canna converted to make it 12-10.

And the hosts took the lead for the first time on the half hour as Canna added a further three points after Connacht were penalised at the scrum.

The second half opened in similar fashion to the first but this time it was Zebre who had the early try as Boni touched down to extend the hosts’ lead.

A Cooney penalty reduced the deficit to 18-15 with 47 minutes played with the scrum-half then replaced by Caolin Blade before Ronaldson missed an kick at goal to bring Connacht level.

The hosts then saw try-scorer Minnie sent to the sin bin but that didn’t prevent them crossing for their third try after stealing a Connacht lineout through Padovani with 64 minutes gone.

The conversion from Marcello Violi was good and Zebre were 25-15 ahead.

Zebre’s Matteo Pratichetti was the second man to be shown a yellow card as Connacht hammered at the door of the hosts’ defence late on.

And Connacht made full use of their extra man when Rowland touched down with Ronaldson’s touchline conversion reducing the deficit to 25-22 with two minutes to play.

But Zebre held on and moved within two points of Italian rivals Benetton Treviso at the foot of the Guinness PRO12 table.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final

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