Wednesday 17 October 2018

Keane planning to avoid away-day woes

Kieran Marmion returns to the starting 15. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion returns to the starting 15. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Connacht coach Kieran Keane says there is little to separate his side from Zebre, as the westerners seek a first PRO14 away win of the season after last week's slip-up in Cardiff.

The 2016 champions are just one place above Zebre in the Conference A standings ahead of their clash in Parma this afternoon, and after a narrow defeat to the Blues last week, Connacht need a better return from Italy.

Keane has made seven changes to his side after their disappointing loss, with new signing Pita Ahki handed his first start, while Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Ultan Dillane both return to the starting 15.

A run of nine straight wins over Zebre came to an abrupt end last season for Connacht, and forewarned of their talents - including Connacht academy graduate Ciaran Gaffney among the replacements - they will seek revenge for that 25-22 defeat.

"The competition is pretty close right throughout the PRO14," said Keane. "I don't think there is a great divide or division in it. It is an on the day scenario for me, and you just have to be a little bit off to get beat.

"You have to be on and up for it basically the whole time. It's a great competition and a really even one."

In the backline Keane has made four alterations as Cian Kelleher returns on the right wing, Ahki comes in at outside centre, while Steve Crosbie and Marmion form a new half-back partnership.

Hooker Shane Delahunt scored twice last week and is rewarded with a place in the starting 15, while Dillane returns and James Connolly starts at openside.

This will be Keane's first time visiting Italy since 1979 when he lined out for the All Blacks in victory over the Italians in a non-Test match meeting. New Zealand claimed a tight win that day, and Keane would settled for a similar six-point victory today.

"Zebre certainly give the ball plenty of air and they have good players, so I think we will be pretty evenly matched," he said. 

"We expect a tussle. To be a lot more disciplined in our approach, understand what our roles are, and execute really well, that is where we want to concentrate. We don't want to get swept up in peripheral things."

Zebre - M Minozzi; M Bellini, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Chistolini; L Krumov, G Biagi; M Mbanda, J Meyer, R Giammarioli. Reps: L Luus, C Ah-Nau, E Bello, D Sisi, J Sarto, G Palazzani, S Bordoli, C Gaffney.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, P Ahki, T Farrell, M Healy; S Crosbie, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; E Masterson, J Connolly, J Muldoon. Reps: D Heffernan, P McCabe, C Carey, C Gallagher, N Dawai, J Mitchell, J Carty, E Griffin.

Ref - George Clancy (Ireland).

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