Connacht sign off campaign with hard-fought victory
Connacht 25 Zebre 20:Connacht signed off their final Heineken Cup game with Eric Elwood in charge with a hard-fought victory last night.
The home side made hard work of it this final pool fixture against a gritty Italian outfit and it took a late Dan Parks’ drop goal to secure a narrow win at the Galway Sportsground. However, Elwood will be content to have coached his side to a third Heineken Cup win this season and to be leaving the province in a stronger position for his incoming successor Pat Lam who will join Connacht in April.
Connacht’s first opportunity to put points on the board came from a long-range penalty from outhalf Dan Parks after the visitors were pinged at the breakdown. But Elwood will be annoyed that his side conceded a similar penalty just four minutes later and Daniel Halangahu had no trouble potting the 20-metre penalty in front of the posts to level matters.
However, Parks was soon able to grab back the lead with a second penalty earned at the breakdown. Although Parks struck a drop-goal after 24 minutes, knowing there was a penalty pending, they then conceded a soft three points by straying offside from a Garryowen.
Connacht continued to play all the rugby, and when left wing Trevisan Ruggero delayed releasing, Parks again struck the resulting penalty to restore a six-point lead.
Crucially, Connacht got the score they needed just after the interval when a Connacht scrum yards from the line led to a penalty try, with Parks adding the extras for a 19-6 lead.
However, Halangahu nailed two penalties to chip away at the Connacht lead, before Trevisan scored in the corner.
Halangahu missed the touchline conversion to leave just two points between the sides after 60 minutes, while Parks’ penalty attempt four minutes later bounced off the upright.
However, when Zebre struck a 69th-minute penalty to take the lead for the first time, Connacht hopes of a third pool win looked in tatters.
A 71st-minute penalty after Zebre once again conceded at the breakdown gave Parks an opportunity to restore the lead, and he struck the 45-metre effort perfectly, to the relief of the 5,803 supporters. And Parks edged Connacht five ahead with a 75th-minute drop goal.
Meanwhile, Harlequins completed a clean sweep in the pool with a hard-earned 16-9 victory at rain-soaked Biarritz.
The reigning English Premiership champions ended Biarritz’s four-year unbeaten home run in the competition to wrap up a dominant display in the pool stages.
Harlequins are guaranteed a home tie in the quarter-finals.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T OHalloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White (c), M Swift, M McCarthy, M Kearney, J OConnor, A Browne. Replacements: D Poolman for Griffin (60m), P ODonohoe for Marmion, R Loughney for White, and E Reynecke for Harris-Wright (all 72m), E Grace for OConnor (75m).
ZEBRE: T Tebaldi; G Venditti, R Quartaroli, M Pratichetti, R Trevisan; D Halangahu, A Chillon; S Perugini,D Giazzon, L Redolfini, M van Vuren, J Sole, E Caffini, M Bergamasco (c), F Ferrarini. Replacements: C Fesguccia for Giazzon, L Martineli for Chillon, D Ryan for Redolfini (all HT), A Mancini for Ferrarini (68m), N Belardo for Caffini and S Pace for Tebaldi (75).
Referee: Pascal Gauzere.