Connacht survive almighty scare in Parma to keep PRO14 destiny in their own hands by slimmest of margins
Zebre 5 Connacht 6
Connacht remain in control of their own destiny but only after a surviving a major shock in Parma after a very poor display.
But while Connacht will need to show a huge improvement for next Saturday’s showdown with Cardiff Blues at the Sportsground, they will be relieved to leave Italy with the win that keeps them on course for a place-off spot in the PRO14 and automatic entry to next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Yet they will be the first to acknowledge that they would have suffered a third defeat in a row in Parma had injury-stricken Zebre had a quality place-kicker, with Michael Bradley’s men missing eight points off the tee.
There was a huge sigh of relief in the Connacht camp when replacement Guglielmo Palazzani missed a penalty from halfway with less than four minutes left, with full-back Edoardo Padovani having earlier missed eight points as Zebre badly missed injured Italian out-half Carlo Canna.
Connacht, having got on top in the scrum and with Zebre’s lineout in disarray, looked set to wrap up victory early on but had to be content with a 6-0 lead after an opening quarter that they dominated.
Jack Carty edged them in front after six minutes with a penalty in front of the posts.
Connacht opted for the scrum from a couple of other scoreable penalties but couldn’t make them count for the opening try of the match and in the end opted for the posts and a doubling of the lead after 20 minutes from Carty.
The stop-start nature of the game didn’t help either side as injuries were dealt with but the superb line kicking of Carty gave Connacht some excellent possession.
International Rugby Newsletter
Zebre didn’t mount a serious attack inside the Connacht 22 in the game until three minutes into the second-half but they made it count to score the opening try of the match.
The Connacht defence was poor, with Tommaso Boni getting away from the clutches of Tiernan O’Halloran and Darragh Leader in the left corner, and while he was eventually stopped, the ball was recycled and his Italian international colleague Mattia Bellini picked and dived over from a metre out.
Connacht thought they had got in for their first try after 55 minutes but referee Ben Blain, far too hesitant throughout in making decisions, spent an age consulting with TMO Andrew McMenemy before ruling out a touchdown from Leader after a forward pass from Tom Daly to Peter Robb in the build-up.
Zebre had opportunities to win it in the final quarter but Connacht did enough to hold out for a priceless victory.
Scorers – Zebre: M Bellini try; Connacht: J Carty 2 pens.
Zebre: E Padovani; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Boni, J Elliott; F Brummer, J Renton (G Palazzani 66); A Lovotti (D Rimpelli 59), O Fabiani (M Ceciliani 71), M Ciccioli (G Zilocchi 61); D Sisi, G Biagi (L Krumov 71); J Tuivaiti (J Brown 21 inj), M Mbandà, R Giammarioli.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell (T Daly 28-40 inj) (Daly 44), P Robb, M Healy (C Kelleher 62); J Carty, C Blade (K Marmion 17-25 HIA) (K Marmion 56); D Buckley (P McCabe 59), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 62), D Robertson-McCoy (C O’Donnell 61); U Dillane, G Thornbury (J Maksymiw 66); E McKeon (R Copeland 56), C Fainga’a, J Butler.
Referee: Ben Blain (Scotland).