McSharry a doubt for Connacht's Zebre mission
Connacht are sweating over the fitness of promising young centre Dave McSharry as they prepare to open their second Heineken Cup campaign at Zebre on Saturday.
McSharry, who burst onto the scene a year ago on a development contract with a series of barnstorming performances which earned him a two-year deal, is trying to recover from a series of knocks picked up in the 25-0 loss to Ulster at the weekend.
McSharry was superb in the Connacht defence in the second half and was also the standout player for Eric Elwood's men the previous week in the shock 34-6 win over Leinster.
Backs coach Billy Millard said Connacht were confident that the 22-year-old will recover for the trip to Italy.
"He took a bit of a battering but we are hopeful he'll be okay," said Millard.
Connacht's midfield options are limited, with Kyle Tonetti and new signing Danie Poolman still sidelined.
Up front, Andrew Browne has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, while back-rower Eoin McKeon is battling with a shoulder injury but could make the trip to Parma.
Millard said that they expect a tough challenge from the Italian newcomers and, while Connacht beat them over there 30-17 last month, the game was in the balance in the closing stages before the visitors broke for a Mike McCarthy try to clinch it.
"We know their strengths and weaknesses. They are a good team, you have got to play smart against them. If you play into their hands you can struggle to get your game going," said the former Australian Sevens coach.
Having lost their opening five games in their debut Heineken Cup campaign last year, Connacht knocked English champions Harlequins out of the competition on a memorable night in the Sportsground in January.
Millard said that players were now looking forward to their second season at the top table and were confident of starting it with a win in Italy before Harlequins return to the Sportsground the following Saturday.
Meanwhile, No 8 Nick Williams has emerged as a doubt for Ulster ahead of Friday's clash with Castres.
The resurgent New Zealander was taken off with five minutes to go in last season's finalists' win over Connacht last Friday with a rib injury. The former Munster man has been outstanding since moving to Ravenhill after indifferent stints in the southwest and in Italy and would be a major loss to Ulster.
Roger Wilson is recovering from a hamstring injury but it's not clear whether he will be available, while fellow back-row Sean Doyle will miss the next six weeks of action after sustaining an undisplaced fracture of his fibula playing for Dungannon in the All-Ireland League on Saturday.
Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is expected to come into the squad for Friday night's game having returned from South Africa, where he was in action for the Springboks against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.