McCartney urges Connacht to step it up in bid for honours
It's been a super season for Connacht but experienced hooker Tom McCartney said they are going to have to up their game if it is going to get better.
They are the only side still in contention for Pro12 honours as well as Europe - Dragons are also in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals - but as they aim for their fourth bonus-point win in a row away to Zebre today, the New Zealander said they can't get distracted at this stage of the season.
The first of those bonus-point wins was against Russians Enisei-STM in the Challenge Cup but it is the maximum hauls at home to Scarlets and away to Dragons which has really given substance to their claim for a first ever top-six finish, not to mind their dreams of a semi-final spot.
"It's still a long way to go. If you get caught looking at the table too much and you take your eye off what your job is, then it doesn't do you any good.
"We just have got to take it one game a time. We are in a good position, it is good to be where we are. But you can't get too far ahead of yourself," said McCartney.
Coach Pat Lam has made five changes, three of them up front where tighthead Finlay Bealham returns from Ireland camp to start.
Lock Ben Marshall begins his first Pro12 game since September and No 8 Eoin McKeon is promoted from the bench. In the backline, Kieran Marmion starts at scrum-half and Niyi Adeolokun is on the right wing.
Connacht, who have won all 11 meetings against Zebre in the league and Europe, are the top try-scorers in the Pro12 this season with 36, while the Italians, who have included former Connacht and New Zealand full-back Mils Muliaina in their line-up, have the worst defence, having conceded 47.
Zebre - M Muliaina; G Toniolatti, G Bisegni, M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl; K Haimona, L Burgess; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami; E Caffini, J Meyer, A Van Schalkwyk. Reps: E Coria, A De Marchi, P Ceccarelli, F Ruzza, F Cristiano, M Panunzi, U Beyers, T Boni.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham; B Marshall, A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Heenan, E McKeon. Reps: D Heffernan, R Loughney, R Ah You, G Naoupu, E Masterson, C Blade, P Robb, D Poolman.
Zebre v Connacht, Live, TG4, 4.30pm