Connacht v Zebre

Pat Lam's side will be looking to pick up a bonus point and increase their qualification chances

John O'Sullivan Sat, Jan 14
LIVE: Connacht v Zebre

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  • 12:38
    Good afternoon and welcome to the Irish Times live blog of Connacht's Champions Cup match against Zebre at the Sportground. John O'Sullivan here to take you through hopefully from the home supporters perspective will be a bonus point victory and a final weekend shoot-out in Toulouse.  
  • 12:39
    I've just about thawed out after the biting chill of the RDS last night but the temperatures have risen this morning and it's a positively balmy seven degrees.  
  • 12:41
    There's about 20 minutes to kickoff at the Sportsground so maybe a little time for some required reading. I had a look at the matches not involving the Irish provinces over the weekend. You can read a brief match-by-match guide here.  
  • 12:41
  • 12:42

    Okay time to introduce today's teams.


    Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Rory Parata, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy; John Cooney, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Lewis Stevenson, James Cannon, Sean O'Brien, Eoin McKeon, John Muldoon (capt).


    Replacements: David Heffernan, JP Cooney, John Andress, James Connolly, Naulia Dawai, Caolin Blade, Tom Farrell, Danie Poolman


    Zebre: Kurt Baker; Lloyd Greeff, Edoardo Padovani, Mattia Bellini, Guglielmo Palazzani; Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi; Andrea Lovotti, Carlo Festuccia, Pietro Ceccarelli, Gideon Koegelenberg, Valerio Bernabo, Maxime Mbanda (c), Johan Meyer, Federico Ruzza.


    Replacements: Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea de Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Josh Furno, George Biagi, Carlo Engelbrecht, Derick Minnie, Serafin Bordoli


    Referee: Tom Foley (England).


    Assistant ref: Ian Tempest (England), Assistant ref: Greg Garner (England).


     TMO: Sean Davey (England).


    Citing Commissioner: John Byett (England)


  • 12:45
    Zebre's future in professional rugby is in doubt beyond this season and even to make it to the end of that timeframe they are looking to raise one million euro. The rumours are that they will be replaced in the Pro12 and Europe by a franchise in Rome. Gavin Cummiskey wrote about it here.  
  • 12:47
    The Italian side will be hoping that their experience today is a lot less painful than the hammering they suffered at the RDS last weekend. Connacht have so many injury issues and scrumhalf John Cooney will wear the number 10 jersey; last man standing in some respects.  
  • 12:50
    This is the sort of armchair ride that John Cooney will be hoping for this afternoon.  
  • 12:50
  • 12:54
    Connacht coach Pat Lam speaking ahead of the game: "We always put that goal (five points) out there but you have to work on the process. We got some quality sessions this week. We know that if you look too far ahead you can fall over. We have a great opportunity over the next two weeks to get little old Connacht into the top eight of European rugby."  
  • 12:54
  • 12:55
    Six minutes to kickoff. John Muldoon is back to lead Connacht following injury.  
  • 12:56
  • 12:59
    Zebre have made seven changes from the side that conceded 10-tries at the RDS last week but the club does contribute 15-players to Conor O'Shea's Italy Six Nations squad. O'Shea is in Galway as is Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.  
  • 13:00
    Teams are making their way to the pitch.  
  • 13:01
    Connacht are missing 21 players but those on duty today are more than good enough to get what the home side and supporters want this afternoon. Zebre to kick off.  
  • 13:03
    Connacht win the first penalty of the game. Kieran Marmion with a half break, ball moved wide and Rory Parata wasn't released after the tackle. Connacht go down the line.  
  • 13:03
  • 13:05

    The lineout might have been a bit scrappy but John Cooney throws out a gorgeous pass to Parata, who sends Tiernan O'Halloran through a gap and he in turn releases Matt Healy who touches down. Cooney adds the conversion. That's nine from nine from the scrumhalf playing in the number 10 jersey.

    1 min: Connacht 7 Zebre 0

  • 13:05
    That's Healy's second try in Europe this season.  
  • 13:07
    That's good counter-rucking from the Zebre backrow and they forced a turnover knock-on as Parata tried to run the ball out of his 22.  
  • 13:07
  • 13:07
    Freekick against Connacht at the scrum.  
  • 13:08


    Super response from Zebre. Quck tap and go from the penalty. Ball moved wide and Johan Meyer forces his way over. Silence in Galway.  

  • 13:09

    Carlo Canna adds the conversion.  

    7 mins: Connacht 7 Zebre 7

  • 13:11
    Connacht got punished for turning over possession while trying to escape their 22, compounded by conceding a freekick for an early push at the scrum and then numbering up wrongly out wide.  
  • 13:12
    Connacht going side to side inside their 22 and another handling error gives Zebre possession and position.  
  • 13:13
  • 13:14
    TRY:  Federico Ruzza.
  • 13:15

    The Zebre number eight crashes over under the posts. The genesis was again Connacht failing to run out of their 22 and turning over possession and the Italians have used it intelligently and with purpose. Canna adds the conversion.

    13 mins: Connacht 7 Zebre 14

  • 13:18
    Okay. Issues for Connacht. They're second best at the breakdown. Their back play is lateral and largely confined to their 22. Too many handling errors. They have invited Zebre into the game and the Italians have gladly accepted and with some flair.  
  • 13:18
    Another Connacht penalty at the breakdown after Cooney had missed touch with his penalty kick.  
  • 13:19
    To use modern rugby parlance Connacht need to resource the rucks better. That's put more bodies in to you and me.  
  • 13:19
  • 13:20
    Silver linings for the home side. They are playing into a strong wind. It's glaringly obvious that if they can hang onto the ball and go through the phases they can break down the Italian team.  
  • 13:21
  • 13:23

    Gorgeous try. Marmion with a super flat pass, Sean O'Brien takes a great line through a gap, links with Craig Ronaldson, who in turn releases Cooney for a 30-metre run-in. Training ground precision. Cooney converts his own try.  

    19 mins: Connacht 14 Zebre 14

  • 13:24
    Connacht make another mistake trying to run out of their 22 and it's a turnover with Zebre getting the scrum. The home side conceded two tries from similar situations.  
  • 13:26
    Super offload from O'Halloran and Niyi Adeolokun makes metres. He's tackled high but further up the pitch Canna is penalised at a ruck. Connacht go to the corner.  
  • 13:26
  • 13:28

    Driving maul makes progress then a beauty of a grubber from Cooney and O'Halloran gathers a metre from the posts and dives over. Conney converts. The former Gonzaga schoolboy is making more than a decent fist of his new role at outhalf.  

    24 mins: Connacht 21 Zebre 14

  • 13:29
    Connacht have scored three tries. One more for a bonus point.  
  • 13:30
  • 13:30
    Connacht go close again but get another penalty and will go to the corner.  
  • 13:31
  • 13:33

    Zebre brought down the first maul illiegally but second time round, Lewis Stevenson takes and Finlay Bealham is at the back of the maul that forces its way over the line. That's a wonderful conversion from Cooney. Bonus point for Connacht.  

    29 mins: Connacht 28 Zebre 14

  • 13:34
  • 13:35
    YELLOW CARD: Zebre right wing  Lloyd Greeff. High tackle on Adeolokun.  
  • 13:36
    Another super bit of play from O'Halloran.  
  • 13:36
  • 13:38
    YELLOW CARD:  Pietro Ceccarelli bringing down a maul.  
  • 13:39
    Zebre are down to 13 men. Two in the sin bin.  
  • 13:39
    That's the 10th penalty that Zebre have conceded so far and they're down to 13 players.  
  • 13:42


    Connacht have a scrum five metres out. The scrum walks forward and Marmion drops on the ball over the line. Cooney misses the conversion.  

    37 mins: Connacht 33 Zebre 14

  • 13:43
    Connacht have made a change with JP Cooney on for Buckley.  
  • 13:44
  • 13:46

    Lineout, Marmion with a short ball to Ronaldson and not a finger is laid on him as he races over from 22 metres. Conney converts and the half-time whistle goes.  

    40 mins: Connacht 40 Zebre 14

  • 13:46
    This will be of interest to Leinster supporters.  
  • 13:46
  • 13:49
    Apart from a 10-minute spell when Zebre grabbed a 14-7 lead Connacht dominated the first half against an increasingly disillusioned Italian side who  are down to 13 players with two in the sin bin.  
  • 13:49
  • 13:50
    Some excellent individual displays from Connacht players notably, Sean O'Brien, Marmion, Cooney in his unfamiliar role of outhalf, Parata and O'Halloran.  
  • 13:51
    Zebre conceded 12 penalties in those 40-minutes and two yellow cards.  
  • 13:51
  • 13:58
    The teams are due back on the pitch and Connacht supporters will be hoping that this man - linked with a move to Ulster for next season - has an equally outstanding second half.  
  • 13:58
  • 14:00
    Here's another Connacht man hoping to excel abeit at a different venue.  
  • 14:00
  • 14:02
    We're under way again.  
  • 14:02
  • 14:04

    Nice handling from O'Halloran, O'Brien and then good strength from Healy but he should never have been able to break those tackles millimetres from the touchline. Cooney with the touchline conversion via a post. That's Matt Healy's 30th try for Connacht.

    41 mins: Connacht 47 Zebre 14  

  • 14:04
  • 14:06

    O'Halloran with his second try of the match. The fullback puts Healy away and then is on hand to take the return pass and race over. Cooney adds the conversion. That's two tries in three minutes. Zebre's two players in the sin bin have returned.

    43 mins: Connacht 54 Zebre 14

  • 14:07
  • 14:08
    Naulia Dawai on for Muldoon. John Andress on for Bealham. David Heffernan for McCartney.  
  • 14:09
  • 14:11
    Zebre win a penalty in the Connacht 22 and elect for a scrum.  
  • 14:16
    Zebre get over the line but are penalised for crossing.  
  • 14:16
  • 14:16
    James Cannon has been excellent for Connacht; all-round excellence.  
  • 14:17
  • 14:19

    Superb hands from several Connacht players sends Marmion clear and he races home from 45-metres. The home side work the space inside and outside. Cooney converts. It's Marmion's last involvement. Caolin Blade comes on.  

    54 mins: Connacht 61 Zebre 14

  • 14:20
    At Franklin's Gardens: Northampton Saints 21 Castres Olympique 21
  • 14:20
    Danie Poolman on for the outstanding O'Halloran.  
  • 14:25
    TRY:  Mattia Bellini
  • 14:26

    Connacht concede three penalties inside their 22 and from the last Bellini forces his way over from close range. Canna converts.  

    63 mins: Connacht 61 Zebre 21

  • 14:28
  • 14:29
    Since Pat Lam has made all those changes Connacht have completely lost their way in this match. It doesn't matter to the outcome but the game has become nearly unwatchable given the number of basic errors.  
  • 14:30
  • 14:32

    That's better. Healy with the outside break from a scrum and he gives Blade a 40-metre run-in with the replacement scrumhalf showing a decent turn of too. Cooney misses the conversion.  

    67 mins: Connacht 66 Zebre 21

  • 14:32
    Cooney has kicked eight from 10 attempts in tricky wind conditions.  
  • 14:34
    Connacht's 10 tries matches the number than Leinster scored against the Italian side in the Pro12 last week at the RDS; there are still 10 minutes remaining.  
  • 14:36
  • 14:39
    Connacht hammering away there for the past two minutes at the Zebre line and now will have a scrum five metres from the visiting side's line.  
  • 14:39
  • 14:40
    Luke Fitzgerald gives his man-of-the-match to Tiernan O'Halloran. James Cannon, Kieran Marmion, John Cooney and for me Sean O'Brien also presented strong cases for that particular accolade.  
  • 14:43
    O'Halloran's stats. 20 carries, 150 metres, two tries.  
  • 14:46
    In Leinster's pool.........Northampton Saints 28 Castres 21. The French club have nothing to play for next week when they host the Irish province.  
  • 14:48
    FULL-TIME: Connacht 66 Zebre 21
  • 14:50
    Connacht score 10 tries, pick up a win, a bonus point and head to Toulouse next week with a chance of qualfying for the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup. Wholesale second half changes took a bit of a sting out of the game but there were several superb individual performances from Connacht players.  
  • 14:51
    Wasps host Toulouse this faternoon so for the moment, Connacht top the pool.  
  • 14:53
  • 14:55
    Keith Duggan is putting the finishing touches to his match report, which will be up here shortly. I'm off for an ice bath and a sports drink but i'll be back to live blog Munster's pivotal pool match against the Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun. Join me shortly after 5.0pm. Thank you for your company so far and do drop back again later on this afternoon.  
  • 14:55
  • 14:55