Saturday 20 January 2018

Connacht find ruthless edge for Euro fight


John Cooney, Connacht, scores a try
John Cooney, Connacht, scores a try

Connacht produced an overdue display of lethal finishing to run in half a dozen tries in Parma and keep alive their hopes of making it to the Champions Cup next season.

They will go into next Saturday's clash with leaders Ospreys at the Sportsground with everything to play for after an accomplished display yesterday in Italy, with scrumhalf John Cooney getting a brace of tries.

Edinburgh's defeat away to Dragons on Friday blew the race wide open and Connacht took full advantage with this bonus-point victory at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

Matt Healy, Eoghan Masterson, Tiernan O'Halloran and Shane O'Leary also got over in a dominant display from Pat Lam's side.

Brendon Leonard got Zebre's only try but their evening was summed up by the actions of Luca Redolfini who got yellow for lashing out at opposition hooker Dave Heffernan in the 65th minute.

Connacht were on their way and already had three tries in the bag when they led 21-10 at half-time.

Cooney got his first after 12 minutes, he picked up from the ruck and fed wing Healy who danced past Zebre's first line of defence, drew the last defender and fed Cooney who went over.

Carty converted but the teams were back level by the 27th minute when Leonard dotted down and Luciano Orequera slotted the conversion.

But Connacht hit back with try from Healy on the half hour when he scooped to scamper home following a Zebre knock-on.

And another from Cooney four minutes before the break as Connacht held a 21-10 lead at the break. A succession of penalties in the 55th minute resulted in Masterson finding himself at the back of a rolling maul and he finished for the bonus point.

Their second last try was the perfect score as Kieran Marmion broke from a scrum on his own line and fed O'Halloran who raced over.

There was still time for O'Leary to make an impact as he dotted down to put a gloss on the scoreline.

Scorers - Connacht: Cooney 2, Healy, Masterson, O'Halloran, O'Leary tries; Carty 3, McKeon cons. Zebre: Leonard tries; cons, Orquera pens, Orquera.

Zebre: D Berryman; G Venditti, M Pratichetti G Garcia, M Visentin (Mirco Bergamasco 53); L Orquera (A Chillon 74), B Leonard (G Palazzani 74); M Aguero (A De Marchi 62), A Manici (O Fabiani 65), D Chistolini (L Redolfini 56); Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabò (J Sarto 65); F Cristiano (D Chistolini 65 -74 A Mahu 74), Mauro Bergamasco (captain), A Van Schalkwyk.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki ( S O'Leary 73), M Healy; J Carty (C McKeon 61), J Cooney (K Marmion 48); D Buckley (JP Cooney 61), T McCartney (D Heffernan 63), R Ah You (F Bealham 63); U Dillane (A Browne 52), A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, E McKeon (G Naoupu 56).

Referee: I Davies (Wales)

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