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Zebre stun sloppy Connacht to complete season double

Connacht 11 Zebre 19

16 February 2018; Craig Ronaldson of Connacht is tackled by Maxime Mbanda of Zebre during the Guinness PRO14 Round 15 match between Connacht and Zebre at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
16 February 2018; Craig Ronaldson of Connacht is tackled by Maxime Mbanda of Zebre during the Guinness PRO14 Round 15 match between Connacht and Zebre at the Sportsground in Galway. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Zebre won for the first time on Irish soil as Michael Bradley masterminded a 19-11 PRO14 victory over his former side Connacht at the Sportsground.

The Italians had lost on all 24 previous visits to Irish provinces in all competitions - including eight in Galway - but they deservedly won this Conference A clash with the error-prone hosts.

Connacht trailed 7-6 at half-time, Craig Ronaldson's second penalty closing the gap after Zebre number eight Renato Giammarioli had gobbled up an 18th-minute try.

Having been denied an earlier score due to a forward pass, Gabriele di Giulio touched down in the 46th minute and, with Connacht putting in their worst performance for some time, Andrea di Marchi's 64th-minute try from a charge-down sealed the province's fate.

Kieran Keane's men were let down by a malfunctioning lineout time and again - they lost eight of their own throws - and Darragh Leader's 72nd-minute try, with Ronaldson missing the conversion, mattered little in the end, despite Zebre ending the game with Maxime Mbanda and Rory Parata in the sin-bin.

A lengthy injury stoppage saw Zebre's former Connacht full-back Ciaran Gaffney stretchered off just six minutes in.

Zebre, who were 33-5 losers at Munster last Saturday, fell behind to a central penalty from Ronaldson but soon nipped in front.

Di Giulio sliced through on an angled run, via Serafin Bordoli's inviting inside pass, and Giammarioili was up in support to finish off to the left of the posts. Carlo Canna converted for a 7-3 scoreline.

Zebre's zippy defence continued to force mistakes and some excellent build-up play almost netted the visitors a second try by the half-hour mark. but Canna's initial pass was adjudged forward by TMO Andrew McMenemy.

Caolin Blade was Connacht's bright spark with ball in hand and his half-back partner Ronaldson, having missed a long-range penalty, was back on target with the last kick of the opening half.

Zebre were beginning to leak more penalties, particularly in the scrum where tighthead Finlay Bealham impressed on his 100th appearance for Connacht. However, it was Bradley's charges who struck first on the restart.

Following up on Giulio Bisegni's initial break from deep, Zebre threatened from a maul before Serafin Bordoli handed off Matt Healy and passed for Di Giulio to dive over in the right corner.

Canna was unable to convert and Connacht's woeful night was summed up when Healy's 50th-minute break ended in a frustrating knock-on. Captain George Biagi, a key figure up front for Zebre, then blocked Kieran Marmion's attempted box-kick and fed replacement prop Di Marchi to cover the final metres to the try-line.

Even when Connacht had a glimmer of hope with full-back Leader crossing via passes by Marmion and Pita Ahki, Ronaldson missed the left-sided conversion on the near side.

Former Connacht player Parata joined Mbanda in the bin in the dying seconds, but another missed lineout from Connacht left them empty-handed.

Press Association

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