Connacht sure to keep the good vibes going against Zebre

Pat Lam’s side have an impressive record against the Italians

 Connacht’s Dan Parks: could join an elite ERC club. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Connacht’s Dan Parks: could join an elite ERC club. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 01:00

Connacht coach Pat Lam will expect another Heineken Cup triumph this afternoon. And deep in the Connacht team psyche will be the thought that with a little luck the result against Leinster last week could have been so much different. Controversial try aside Connacht are in a good place.

The good news too is that mathematically Connacht could still qualify from the pool. While that’s very unlikely to happen, the team will bring that thought into the game as well as a decent history against the Italian side. Having beaten Zebre 6-33 in round two, Lam can expect little less than a decent win in Galway against one of the sides they consistently expect to beat.

It is matches like these that Connacht pride themselves in winning although last year, when Zebre were also in their group, the Irish side struggled to win 25-20.

Lam has made two personnel changes to Connacht’s starting pack. Jake Heenan, the 21-year-old, who missed out on the last two games due to injury, is named to start in the backrow, while John Muldoon returns to his regular position of blindside flanker, having covered the openside in Heenan’s absence.

Muldoon captains the side after Craig Clarke was ruled out with a neck injury sustained at the Sportsground last time out. In Clarke’s place Andrew Browne slots into the secondrow to partner Mick Kearney.

In the frontrow, Sligo-born hooker Seán Henry, whose last game was against Toulouse in the home Heineken Cup clash, has also returned from injury and he is in the starting line-up.

The same backline that started against Leinster face the Italians, with Kieran Marmion at scrumhalf, Jack Carty at outhalf, Eoin Griffin and Robbie Henshaw in midfield, and Matt Healy, Fionn Carr and Darragh Leader in the back three.

Its one of those games in which players such as Henshaw and Marmion will want to play well. Henshaw, if he is truly to see himself as the heir to the 13 shirt at Irish level will want to make moves to show Joe Schmidt that he’s ready to take his game on further. Being so close to this year’s Six Nations Championship brings its own pressures and be sure Henshaw is thinking about his career curve continuing in the direction it has been going over the last 12 months.

Dan Parks has been pivotal for Connacht this season and is close to becoming the latest member of the ERC Elite 500 points club. With 50 points already bagged this season, the Scottish outhalf is now only 27 away from another notable career landmark.

Better shape
Zebre are hoping to stop a run of 10 successive Heineken Cup defeats over two seasons in the competition but arrive in Ireland in better shape after coming off a win over Treviso in the league last week.

“It’s no secret that we were frustrated with the manner in which we lost the game last week. But as everyone saw, there were some positives from that game, including the encouraging performances from our young back line. We have decided to retain this selection for the game against Zebre – another huge challenge,” said Lam

“It’s fantastic to welcome back Jake [Heenan] and Seán [Henry]. It’s a long season and the last numbers of games have been extremely physical, taking its toll on some of our players.

“We’ve had to plan without Craig [Clarke] this week but getting some players back from injury has meant we have the strength and depth to make the necessary changes.”

Connacht sit third in the pool with two wins and nine points with Toulouse leading Saracens, both the French and English teams on the same 15 points.