Connacht fall short of bonus-point but hope remains
Connacht failed to get the coveted bonus win but still proved too strong for Zebre at the Sportsground to keep their Heienken Cup challenge alive.
The Westerners were desperately slow out of the blocks, their young back division looking particularly nervous against opponents for whom the fixture held no real importance. The Zebre out-half, Luciano Orquera, kicked his side in front with a 16th minute penalty but, once the home side came to life, we had a different game.
With young Jack Carty directing operations at ten, Connacht completely dominated the second quarter. He kicked them in front with penalties in the 24th and 30th minute and then had a central role in Matt Healy's 35th minute try.
The score was awarded only after a long consultation with the TV umpire, Healy literally crabbing over the line in a move that also had an Eoin Griffin midfield fumble - the ball deemed to have gone backwards - for the officials to consider. Carty kicked the convert from the touchline for Connacht to lead 13-3 at half-way.
When Rob Henshaw went over for a second Connacht try and Carty converted just three minutes after the resumption, that bonus win looked possible. But Pat Lam's side lacked a clinical finish to reward the wonderful work of a hard-working pack. Next up it's Saracens in London, with those slender European hopes still alive.
CONNACHT: D Leader, F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White, M Kearney, A Browne, J Muldoon, J Heenan, E Replacements - M Swift for Kearney (18 mins), J Harris-Wright for Henry (46 mins), D Buckley for Wilkinson (59 mins), G Nauopu for McKeon (65 mins), D Parks for Carty (73 mins), G Duffy for Leader (73 mins), P O'Donoghue for Marmion (75 mins)
ZEBRE: G Palazanni, G Toniolatti, K Ratuvou, G Garcia, D Berryman, L Orquera, A Chillon, M Aguero, D Giazzon, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi, F Ferrarini, D van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa. Replacements - T D'Aspice for Giazzon (12 mins), R Trevisan for Palazzani (52 mins), N Cattina for Ferrarini (53 mins), A de Marchi for Chistolini (60 mins), D Ryan for Aguero (60 mins), R Quartaroli for Garcia (65 mins), D Odiete for Berryman (71 mins).