Connacht victory sets up last eight tie against Saracens
Lam acknowledges win marks province’s best season in Heineken Cup competition
Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring his side’s second try with Eoin Griffin and Sean Henry. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie
Connacht will travel to Saracens this weekend to seek their fourth European victory of the season and an unlikely place in the quarter-finals among the aristocracy.
But while coach Pat Lam acknowledged that this win marks Connacht’s best season in the Heineken Cup, he was frustrated by his side’s failure to exploit further scoring opportunities against a muted Zebre team on Saturday afternoon. Lam spent yesterday watching the other group game between Toulouse and Saracens and doing the mathematics to find out what Connacht will have to do next weekend and admitted that their task would have been slightly easier if they had manufactured a bonus point.
“We are happy with the win but it is a pretty sombre changing room,” said Lam afterwards. We weren’t clinical enough and had so many opportunities we didn’t take. As a group, we demand higher standards and we aren’t asking for things they can’t do. It will be a totally different game against Saracens. They are aggressive and in your face so some of the things we can get away with we won’t next week. There is a clear structured game plan you need to play against that team. The quality of your kicking game is important and we kicked recklessly at times today and gave ball away so we will have to spend time on that.”
This latest win underscored the fluctuating graph of Connacht’s season. This was their seventh win on the spin against Zebre but the Italians sit above them in the RaboDirect table. Connacht played in creative bursts here, slinging the ball about aimlessly in front of a contented Italian defence for the first 15 minutes and then engineering a terrific period of play kick-started by the aggressive adventurism of Fionn Carr, who twice cut through the heart of the visiting cover to give Connacht badly needed forward motion.
The opening period was a study in tentativeness: an early penalty struck wide by Jack Carty; a loose pass from Eoin Griffin intercepted by Kameli Ratovou – who was gobbled up by Matt Healy; a rushed 22 tap by Mick Kearney on 12 minutes in which he somehow injured himself and a scrum against the head which led to a Zebre penalty and the lone Italian score of the game for Luciano Orquera.
Then, 23 minutes into the afternoon, Connacht settled and exhibited the best of themselves. Carr and then Marmion broke the Italian line for Connacht’s first meaningful attack and a daring chip along the touchline by Robbie Henshaw led to scrambling Italian cover and a cynical stop by Filippo Ferrarini as Nathan White was thundering towards the try line. Ferrarini was yellow carded, Carthy struck a second crisp penalty and the home team were on their way. Heenan came thundering out of the 22 on the restart and when Connacht recycled possession, Carty leaned back and delivered a perfect kick deep into the Zebre 22, straight from the O’Gara playbook of distance and accuracy. Three minutes later Matt Healy half dived, half scrambled over the line for his fourth try of the season. Referee Neil Paterson consulted the video room as to whether there was a double movement The try was awarded but Healy had a second-half try disqualified for knocking on as he touched down and in the 73rd minute he seemed odds-on to score when he rose to claim a drifting Italian skip pass and broke into open ground.