Muldoon helps push Connacht over line
Mission accomplished for Eric Elwood's men. Well, sort of.
There was no bonus point to show for their efforts in the Italian heartland but in truth it was all about the win, as they were made to work hard by an ever-improving Zebre side hell-bent on ending their losing sequence, which extends as long as their existence.
John Muldoon scored the only try of the game while Dan Parks kicked 14 points to ensure the westerners got their cup campaign off to a winning start, but it was rarely comfortable, and in particular during the first half. Connacht had taken a wise approach and resisted chasing the bonus-point try-haul right from the off.
They picked off their penalties when they came, and kept the home crowd quiet by penning Zebre back in the corners.
Parks did well to target the jelly-like hands and shaky positional play of fullback Daniel Halangahu, who made more metres for Connacht than any other. With ball in hand the backs looked reasonably threatening, and in particular Robbie Henshaw, who at times looked a class apart with his broken field running.
Despite their enterprising build-up play, however, Connacht failed to create too many gilt-edged scoring opportunities as the final pass too often went astray. And as the half wore on, it was Zebre who grew in ascendancy, their driving maul proving particularly useful as the piano lifters warmed to the challenge. The maestros behind were considerably less effective, it must be said, partly due to Connacht's well-organised defence, and partly due to Italian tunnel vision.
Halangahu scored one penalty but went wide with two kickable attempts. Which all meant that Connacht went down the tunnel with a 9-3 lead, Parks adding a third penalty on the stroke of half-time after Mauro Bergamasco upended Tiernan O'Halloran, for which he was sent to the bin.
With an extra man, Connacht worked hard to make their advantage pay during the early jousts of the second half, but they looked nervous and jittery, and let the hosts off the hook on a number of occasions.
O'Halloran failed to pass to Fetu'u Vainikolo outside him with Zebre stretched to the limit, while Parks landed a cross-field kick directly into the path of three unmarked players, but none of them managed to get their mitts on the ball as it skidded into touch.
Still Connacht probed, but the most they had to show for their efforts was another penalty by Parks, taking the score out to 12-3, the game still far from secure.
With that, however, Zebre heads seemed to drop, and the decisive moment of the match arrived.
A superb kick-chase by Mike McCarthy forced Zebre into the concession of a penalty metres from his own line, which was taken quickly by Muldoon, who steamrolled his way over the line for the game-breaking try.
Substitute Filippo Ferrarini did manage to pull one back for Zebre at the death, but it was too little, too late.
Scorers -- Zebre: Ferrarini try, Halangahu con, pen. Connacht: Parks 4 pens, con, Muldoon try.
Zebre: D Halangahu; G Venditti, M Pratichetti, G Garcia (R Trevisan 65), S Sinoti (L Sarto 64); L Orquera (F Ferrarini 55), T Tebaldi (L Martinelli 65); S Perugini (M Aguero 56), D Giazzon (C Festuccia 53), L Redolfini (C Fazzari 53); Q Geldenhuys, J Sole; N Belardo (M Van Vuren 53), M Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O'Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry (M Fifita 70), F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion (D Moore 70); D Buckley (R Ah You 50), E Reynecke, N White; M Swift (D Gannon 70), M McCarthy; J Muldoon, W Faloon (J O'Connor 57), G Naoupu.
Referee: L Hodges (WRU)
Sunday Indo Sport