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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 25 February 2021

Connacht hold on for crucial Pro14 victory over Zebre in Parma

It wasn’t pretty but Andy Friend’s side got the job done in Italy.

Gavin Thornbury carries into contact.
Gavin Thornbury carries into contact.
Image: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

Zebre 5

Connacht 6

John Fallon reports from Stadio Lanfranchi  

CONNACHT WILL GO their showdown with Cardiff Blues next weekend on the back of two very poor performances, but at least they held on for victory in a mistake-ridden clash at Stadio Lanfranchi tonight. 

Zebre’s lack of a place-kicker was the main reason Connacht survived with the Italians missing eight points off the tee, including a late penalty from replacement Guglielmo Palazzani.

Victory means Andy Friend’s side go into next weekend’s clash with Cardiff in Galway four points ahead of the Blues in third place in Conference A, as the race for the play-offs heats up. 

The stop-start nature of the opening half, with scrum resets and a litany of injuries, did little for a dominant Connacht side and they had to settle for a 6-0 interval lead.

The Connacht scrum was on top and Zebre’s lineout was in disarray but Friend’s men were unable to punish a side looking for their first win in the competition since October.

Jack Carty edged them in front with an early penalty in front of the posts but their decisions to opt for scrums from a couple of other kickable penalties didn’t pay a dividend.

In the end, they reverted to going for the posts at the end of the opening quarter but while they dominated from there to the break they rarely looked like getting over for the opening try.

Jack Carty kicks at goal Carty kicked six points for Connacht. Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

That honour fell to Zebre three minutes after the restart in their first worthwhile attack of the game with the Connacht defence easily prised open and while Tommaso Boni was stopped short, his Italian international colleague Mattia Bellini picked and dived over from close range.

Fullback Edordo Padovani, on kicking duty after Carlo Canna’s season was ended against Munster, missed the conversion from the left so Connacht kept their noses 6-5 in front.

Darragh Leader had a 55th minute try ruled out after a forward pass from Tom Daly to Peter Robb in the build-up.

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There was a huge let-off for Connacht when Padovani missed a penalty after the visitors lost a five-metre lineout after 64 minutes, but at the other end Carty kicked a penalty dead from the ten-metre line and after that they just about did enough to survive with impressive replacement Robin Copeland winning a last-gasp penalty to seal the win.

Zebre scorers:

Tries: Mattia Bellini
Conversions: Edoardo Padovani [0 from 1]
Penalties: Edoardo Padovani [0 from 1], Guglielmo Palazzani [0 from 1].

Connacht scorers:

Penalties: Jack Carty [2 from 2].

ZEBRE: Edoardo Padovani; Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, James Elliott; Francois Brummer, Joshua Renton (Guglielmo Palazzani ’66); Andrea Lovotti (Daniele Rimpelli ’59), Oliviero Fabiani (Massimo Ceciliani ’71), Marco Ciccioli (Giosué Zilocchi ’61); David Sisi, George Biagi (Leonard Krumov ’71); Jimmy Tuivaiti (James Brown ’21 inj), Maxime Mbandà, Renato Giammarioli.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell (Tom Daly ’28-40 inj) (Daly ’44), Peter Robb, Matt Healy (Cian Kelleher ’62); Jack Carty, Caolin Blade (Kieran Marmion ’17-25 HIA) (Marmion ’56); Denis Buckley (Peter McCabe ’59), Dave Heffernan (Shane Delahunt ’62), Dominic Robertson-McCoy (Conan O’Donnell ’61); Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury (Joe Maksymiw ’66); Eoin McKeon (Robin Copeland ’56), Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler.

Referee: Ben Blain [Scotland].

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John Fallon

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