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Seven-try Connacht cruise to win over Zebre despite second-half red card for Papali'i

Sean O’Brien scored on his return but Connacht will be concerned by the withdrawal of Tom Farrell through injury in the second half.

Jarrad Butler leads his team off the field after the game.
Jarrad Butler leads his team off the field after the game.
Image: Sighinolfi Luca/INPHO

CONNACHT SUFFERED A RED card and an injury scare but ultimately had far too much quality for Zebre in Parma, cruising to a 47-12 victory against the Italians who are coached by former western province boss Michael Bradley.

Andy friend and co. will be satisfied with elements of Connacht’s seven-try performance in which Sean O’Brien returned with a score and Alex Wootton and Tom Daly each bagged a brace, but likely frustrated with Abraham Papali’i's latest red card and concerned by the injury which forced Tom Farrell off in the second half.

Down 7-0 early to a Tommaso Boni try and Antonio Rizzi conversion, Connacht knocked on the door and replied with a couple of penalties from the boot of Jack Carty before O’Brien dragged them over the line and into the ascendancy on 22 minutes.

Five minutes before half-time, a wonderful move started by a snipe from scrum-half and man of the match Colm Reilly saw the men in green go over again in the left-hand corner through Alex Wootton, who was teed up by a wonderful skip pass from John Porch. The Aussie fullback had proven instrumental moments beforehand while preventing a Zebre break out wide.

The same try-scorer, Wootton, struck a dagger blow into the Italians’ hearts with the final play of the first half. With Connacht defending on their own line, the 26-year-old former Munster wing gambled, intercepted and took it to the house. Carty added the extras, and Zebre went in at the turnaround having seen a potential two- or four-point game become one in which they trailed their visitors 23-7.

Not long after the restart, Sammy Arnold sealed the bonus point as he crashed over from close range following a sequence of strong Connacht carries. Moments later, Ultan Dillane entered the fray for his 100th appearance for the western province, replacing Gavin Thorbury on what was transpiring to be an enjoyable day for Andy Friend’s men.

Tom Daly got in on the act on 49 minutes, exploiting some weak Zebre defence to heave himself over the line following a series of neat Connacht interchanges in the hosts’ 22′.

But then came a couple of blows for Connacht: firstly, Tom Farrell was withdrawn with what looked like a knee injury. The western province will cross their fingers into tomorrow that it wasn’t a significant knock, with the impressive outside centre only in the process of rediscovering his rhythm following an injury- and pandemic-plagued 2020.

Only moments later, Connacht were reduced to 14 for the last 20-or-so minutes when Abraham Papali’i — who had been on the pitch for only six minutes having replaced the superb O’Brien — received a straight red card for a high tackle on Zebre tryscorer Boni.

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It was the 27-year-old Kiwi recruit’s second red card having previously received his marching orders on his debut against Munster late last season.

Marco Manfredi got over for Zebre to bring the score back to 33-12 three minutes after Papali’i's red and the hosts exerted further pressure over the next 10 minutes, but it was the western province who ultimately finished the stronger.

Connacht won a penalty try with 10 minutes remaining as their maul came to the fore, and Tom Daly rounded off a rout later on as he collected a Conor Fitzgerald kick to dot down for his second, and Connacht’s seventh.

Scorers: Zebre: Tries: T Boni, M Manfredi. Con: A Rizzi.

Connacht: Tries: A Wootton (2), T Daly (2), S O’Brien, S Arnold, penalty try. Cons: J Carty, C Fitzgerald. Pens: Carty (2).

Zebre: J Lasloifi; G D’onofrio, G Bisegni, T Boni (P Pescetto 56), G Di Giulio (M Biondelli 65); A Rizzi, J Renton (N Casilio 40); A Lovotti (R Brugnara 53), M Manfredi (O Fabiani 60), E Bello (M Nocera 59); L Krumov, M Kearney; L Masselli, R Giammarioli, D Sisi.

Connacht: J Porch; S Arnold, T Farrell (P Sullivan 53), T Daly, A Wootton; J Carty (C Fitzgerald 60), C Reilly (S Kerins 60); D Buckley (P McAllister 62), S Delahunt (J Murphy 47), J Aungier (D Roberston-McCoy 57), E Masterson, G Thornbury (U Dillane 44), S O’Brien (A Papali’i 50), J Butler, S Masterson.

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