Friday 20 April 2018

Healy keeps Connacht's slim hopes of quarter-finals alive

Connacht 20 Zebre 3

Connacht's Jack Carty about to be tackled by Alberto Chillon of Zebrein at the Sportsground yesterday
Connacht's Jack Carty about to be tackled by Alberto Chillon of Zebrein at the Sportsground yesterday

DECLAN ROONEY

Connacht are enjoying their best season in the Heineken Cup. Matt Healy's first-half try helped them to a seventh straight win over Zebre at the Sportsground yesterday and to their highest ever points total (13) in the competition.

Darragh Leader and Jack Carty were given a big vote of confidence from Lam with their selection ahead of the vastly experienced duo Gavin Duffy and Dan Parks. Leader would have been thrilled to field an early garryowen to settle his nerves and Carty could have followed suit with a second-minute penalty. However, from midway between the 22 and 10 metre lines, the Athlone man narrowly missed the target with his kick.

On six minutes Kameli Ratuvou pounced on a looped Eoin Griffin pass and was only halted on his canter to the try line by Matt Healy's covering tackle, and three minutes later Luciano Orquera narrowly missed out on giving Zebre the lead with a tricky penalty from the left. But the Italian international outhalf found his range in the 16th minute after a Connacht defender failed to roll away from the tackle to give Zebre a 3-0 lead.

Mick Kearney, was forced from the field after 18 minutes with a shoulder injury, with Michael Swift introduced in his place, and the presence of Connacht's most capped player seemed to have a settling effect on a tetchy Connacht. And six minutes after his arrival they pulled level after a Fionn Carr line break forced the concession of a penalty, which Carty slotted. The tenacity of Jake Heenan at the breakdown saved Connacht on a couple of occasions, but Zebre's ill-discipline was also becoming a factor.

And in the 29th minute the Italians boiled over and were temporarily reduced to 14 men when Filippo Ferrarini was binned after he pulled Kieran Marmion into a ruck. Carty slotted the penalty to give Connacht a 6-3 lead and with a one-man advantage.

But it took six minutes to pry their way through a determined Zebre defence as Swift and Nathan White were both stopped short in their earlier efforts. A knock on in defence from George Biagi handed Connacht a five-metre scrum and after Marmion spread the ball towards the left touchline, Healy crawled over for the first try of the game.

Carty landed the tough conversion from the left as Connacht opened out a 13-3 lead at the break, but straight from the restart the home side tore into the Italians again.

Full-back Leader came close to bagging a try from a Marmion crossfield kick in the 43rd minute, and after a rolling maul was hauled down for the second time in a minute they put the ball through the hands. Heenan, Swift and Carty all produced splendid off loads in quick succession, but it was Henshaw's neat sidestep that put the finishing touches on the score -- the young centre's first Heineken Cup try. Carty converted to give Connacht a 20-3 lead and from there on he refused kicks at goal as Connacht went in search of a crucial bonus point.

Healy appeared to have bagged his second try of the game 13 minutes from time, but after doing all the hard work the TMO adjudged he knocked on the ball in the process of touching it down and the chance of a bonus point evaporated. George Naoupu looked like crossing for Connacht's third from the ensuing scrum, but his handling also let him down.

Connacht continued to batter the Zebre try line and Healy came within inches of his second four minutes from time, but after a foot race from halfway, Giiulio Toniolatti halted him just short of the line. They failed to clinch it, but Connacht deserved a first ever bonus against the Italians.

Scorers -- Connacht: M Healy, R Henshaw try each; J Carty 2 pens, 2 cons. Zebre: L Orquera pen.

Connacht: D Leader (G Duffy 73); F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty (D Parks 73), K Marmion (P O'Donohoe 72); B Wilkinson (D Buckley 57), S Henry (J Harris-Wright 46), N White (R Ah You 61); M Kearney (M Swift 18), A Browne; J Muldoon (capt), J Heenan, E McKeon (G Naoupu 65).

Zebre: G Palazzani (R Trevisan 53); G Toniolatti, K Ratuvou, G Garcia (R Quartaroli 65), D Berryman (D Odiete 72); L Orquera, Al Chillon; M Aguero (A de Marchi 60), D Giazzon (T D'Apice 6 blood), D Chistolini (D Ryan 60); Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi (M Bortolami 61); F Ferrarini (N Cattina 54), D van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.

Referee: N Paterson (SRU).

Irish Independent

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