Friday 27 April 2018

Storm clouds save Connacht as game is abandoned due to deluge

Tiernan O’Halloran runs in a try for Connacht against Zebre before Saturday’s game was abandoned. Photo by Daniele Buffa/Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran runs in a try for Connacht against Zebre before Saturday’s game was abandoned. Photo by Daniele Buffa/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Maybe this was the break Connacht needed to get their season up and running? Or were the storm clouds, which turned a beautiful sunny Italian evening into a monsoon, sending a message that Connacht's defence of their Pro12 crown is in crisis?

Zebre 22 Connacht 10

We will never know. Perhaps Connacht would have recovered and notched their first win of the campaign? Or could their heavy home defeats by Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys have been followed by a first-ever loss to Zebre in the 13th meeting between the sides?

The answers will never be known, but, once again, the footage of what was played will not make for pleasant viewing, as another high error count was punished by a Zebre side who they play back in Parma next month in the Champions Cup.

You could appreciate the frustration of Zebre coach Gianluca Guidi, who must have thought they were on course for a famous win over the champions to secure what would have been just their 14th win in 91 league games.

However, he was taking a philosophical view after watching his men build a three tries to one advantage.

"Maybe heaven doesn't want 15 Italians playing so well! Maybe we would have lost it, but we had stayed in front and had a chance to score another try. We have not had a match called off before because of the weather, but there was nothing which could be done," he said.

Connacht coach Pat Lam agreed with the decision to abandon the game at half-time. The result would have stood had it lasted for 60 minutes, but will now have to be refixed, possibly taking place just before the start of the Six Nations.

The sides will also meet in the Champions Cup, with Connacht returning to Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma next month in round two. It will be a journey made with further trepidation after being outplayed by Zebre before the glorious sunshine gave way to a thunder and lightning storm of biblical proportions.

Lam felt they could have recovered after an opening half where they were punished severely for mistakes.

"There's no doubt there was energy, but again it's individual execution on stuff. We fell off a couple of tackles which put us under pressure. We put them under pressure, but lost the ball. We scored a really good team try, but we didn't execute in some areas," he said.

"Ultimately, they played well and all the stuff they got, they fed off our mistakes.

"We were never under any illusions about these guys, even though we've beaten them every time. We have total respect for what they do. They've done that before in games. We talked about it and they showed their quality when we gave them the opportunities. We know how tough they are."

They made that clear from the outset, with a side which had 14 Italian internationals on from the start. One of them, centre Tommaso Boni, who was capped during the summer tour to Argentina, crowned early pressure with a try.

Connacht hit back and another summer international debutant, Tiernan O'Halloran, burst through to score after good work by Jack Carty and Niyi Adeolokun.

However, Connacht's handling in contact was poor and it helped Zebre build the phases, which saw them pull away with left winger Giovanbattista Venditti superb for the home side.

The pressure yielded tries as flankers Maxime Mbanda and Jacopo Sarto - whose brother Leonardo did serious damage to Connacht on the opening day for Glasgow - got over and Lam's men were in serious trouble when they went in trailing by 22-10 at the break.

By then the heavens had opened and while referee Ian Davies kept them in the changing rooms for over 30 minutes, the deluge had done sufficient damage to have the match called off.

(Match abandoned at half-time)

Zebre: E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, V Giovanbattista; C Canna, G Palazzani; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; J Sarto, M Mbanda, F Ruzza.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney; L Stevenson, A Browne; E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon.

ref: I Davies (Wales)

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport