Wednesday 17 January 2018

Hat-trick hero Healy plays down Ireland talk

Zebre 34 Connacht 51

Niyi Adeolokun scores his second try. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile.
Niyi Adeolokun scores his second try. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile.
Connacht's Jake Heenan is tackled by Zebre Bruno Postiglion. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile.
Zebre's Oliviero Fabiani is tackled by Jake Heenan, 7, and John Moldoon, Connacht. Photo: Max Pratelli / Sportsfile.

Ronan O'Brien

This season is warming up nicely for Connacht. With seven games to go they are top of the table: they have already matched last season's record points and wins tallies and are within touching distance of their goal of Champions Cup qualification.

Central to their recent good form has been Matt Healy's ability to beat defenders and score tries. His hat-trick at the weekend wrapped up the bonus-point win Parma and has surely moved him closer to the forefront of Joe Schmidt's thinking.

The former Lansdowne winger now has ten tries in all competitions this season, and he admits he is unable to avoid chat of international honours.

"I have heard it yeah. I have been asked the same question a little bit. But the answer I always give, and it's the honest answer. I have to focus on my own performance," he said.

"Consistency is key. I made a lot of mistakes so I have got things to work on. Three tries might look good but there's a few blemishes."

Healy's first hat-trick in all forms of the game caught the eye, but so too did the performance of Niyi Adeolokun, who twice saved Connacht with last-gasp tackles, before he ran in two tries of his own.

There were a few setbacks along the way too, though. Back-row Eoghan Masterson was sent to hospital in Italy for a scan on a serious leg injury, with bad news expected, while kicker Craig Ronaldson and flanker Jake Heenan also left the fray with knocks.

The concession of four tries to the attack-minded Italians was hardly ideal, but it made for a pulsating encounter that also saw Kieran Marmion run in his third Pro12 try of the season.

Next up for Connacht is the in-form, sixth placed Ospreys at the Sportsground, a game that has taken on massive importance in the race for Europe. Head coach Pat Lam wants his team to stick at their tried and tested methods as the pressure increases.

"Everyone wanted the outcome which was five points, but certainly there was a lot of lessons and work-ons for us. But we'll say this: no one comes here and puts 50 points on those boys," he said.

"This team doesn't change from day to day, we just work hard. The outcomes we celebrate later on.

"We are not getting carried away. Although we have stayed in the top four right through the season, we realise that doesn't count for anything come May 7. There is a long way to go between now and then."

Zebre - M Muliaina (U Beyers 51); G Toniolatti, G Bisegni (T Boni 57), M Pratichetti, K Van Zyl; K Haimona, L Burgess (M Panunzi 68); B Postiglioni (A De Marchi 57), O Fabiani (E Coria 75), D Chistolini (P Ceccarelli 56); G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami; E Caffini, J Meyer (F Ruzza 56), DVan Schalkwyk (F Cristiano 66).

Connacht - T O'Halloran (D Poolman 67); N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson ( P Robb 50), M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion (C Blade 60); D Buckley (R Loughney 60), T McCartney, F Bealham (R Ah You 60); B Marshall (D Heffernan 61), A Muldowney; J Muldoon, J Heenan (E Masterson 26) (G Naoupu 46), E McKeon.

Ref - G Conway (IRFU).

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