Giuseppe Fama/INPHO Connacht sit in third place in Conference A.
Out of jail

Connacht relieved to survive Italian scare ahead of Cardiff showdown

Andy Friend’s side remain on track for a top-three finish – but there is still plenty of work left to do.

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend admitted he is relieved his side are still in control of their own Pro14 play-off destiny after escaping from Parma with a 6-5 win in a bruising encounter on Saturday evening.

The 6-5 win over Zebre, Connacht’s first away victory in the Pro14 since winning in Bloemfontein at the start of December, sets them up for a showdown with fellow contenders Cardiff Blues next Saturday at the Sportsground.

Victory for Connacht there will secure a play-off place in the league for the first time since winning it three years ago and also guarantee automatic qualification for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

“There is a lot of energy expended out there,” said Friend, after two Jack Carty penalties in the opening quarter were enough to see them over the line at Stadio Lanfranchi.

We knew it was going to be tough to break them down and it was tough to break them down, but we got the win and that is what we came here for.

“We move on to Cardiff now in control of our position.”

Zebre, with former Connacht coach Michael Bradley in charge, got the only try of the game when Italian winger Mattia Bellini scored three minutes after the restart.

They defended stoutly and held Connacht out with Darragh Leader’s touchdown after 55 minutes ruled out for a forward pass in the build-up.

Connacht will have Irish internationals Bundee Aki and Quinn Roux back for Saturday’s showdown and left Parma on Sunday morning with only one new injury concern.

“Tom Farrell got a bit of a poke in the eye. We think he is going to be fine, we just need to see,” Friend added.

“But I think we got out of that game pretty clean and now we move on.”

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