Lam demands more after winning start
Pat Lam said he was relieved to secure victory in his first competitive game in charge after Zebre made life difficult for them in trying conditions at the Sportsground yesterday.
Connacht never looked like becoming the first side to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Italians, but they were not able to feel comfortable until Fionn Carr crossed for their third try five minutes from time.
That set up the prospect of a bonus point, but a fourth try never looked like coming and it was the Italians who hit back with a late score.
"We are happy with the win but feel we can play better than that," said Lam afterwards. "We will need to improve when we travel to play Cardiff next week, but it was great to get the win on the opening day. We now need to build on that."
Connacht made life difficult for themselves in the opening half with Dan Parks uncharacteristically off target with three kicks, including one from just outside the '22'.
Connacht didn't use the wind well in the opening half but they got a great start when Nathan White intercepted a Zebre throw for a clear run to the line after just five minutes.
Parks was off target with the conversion and then sent penalties, one from distance and the other from close range, wide of the post. Italian fly-half Luciano Orquera negotiated the wind to steer a penalty from 25 metres on the left to make it 5-3 after seven minutes.
Lansdowne winger Matt Healy followed up his pre-season form with an excellent try after 29 minutes, beating Zebre full-back Dion Berryman to score in the left corner. Parks supplied the extras from the left touchline. He also added a penalty before the break to make it 15-3 at the interval.
Zebre clawed their way back into contention in the third quarter with the wind behind them and two more penalties from Orquera left Connacht worried at 15-9 after an hour.
Parks eased their concerns with a penalty on 62 minutes to make it 18-9, but it wasn't until five minutes from time that they sealed the deal, with Carr, back at Connacht after two seasons with his native Leinster, combining with Paul O'Donohoe before Connacht's all-time top try scorer crowned his return with a fine try.
However it was Zebre, who will return to Galway again in the Heineken Cup this season, who finished strongly with replacement hooker Andrea Manici getting a touchdown after a good drive.
Orquera added the conversion but having secured bonus points on their two visits to the Sportsground last year, they left empty-handed as a new era began with a win for Connacht.
Scorers – Connacht: N White, M Healy, F Carr try each; D Parks 2 pens, 2 cons Zebre: A Manici try; L Orquera 3 pens, con
Connacht: R Henshaw; F Carr, D Poolman (T O'Halloran 66), E Griffin, M Healy; D Parks (C Ronaldson 76), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 65); B Wilkinson (R Ah You 71), J Harris-Wright (S Henry 56), N White (R Loughney 56); M Swift (A Muldowney 56) , A Browne; J Muldoon, W Faloon, G Naoupu (J Heenan 58)
Zebre: D Berryman (M Pratichetti 54); G Venditti, K Ratuvou, G Garcia, G Toniolatti (T Iannone 49); L Orquera, B Leonard; M Aguero, D Giazzon (A Manici 50), D Christolini (L Redolfini 50); Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (G Biagi 65); M Bergamasco, E Caffini (F Ferrarini 40), S Vunisa
Referee: R Thomas (WRU)