Connacht 22 Zebre 20
In a game of little consequence for both sides, Connacht signed off a disappointing URC season with an expected victory over Italian visitors Zebre at the Sportsground.
A carnival atmosphere prevailed on a day when the rain stayed away, but Andy Friend’s side still made hard work of claiming their ninth win of a season which saw them finish in 11th spot, outside the Champions Cup top eight.
Connacht had posted the first of their four tries after seven minutes in answer to Zebre’s fourth-minute penalty. Kieran Marmion was the scorer, but big carries from Tom Daly and Cian Prendergast were key to this expansive move, and those same players were involved in their second try before Nail Murray went over for his third try for the province, and his first at the Sportsground.
Italian ill-discipline paved the way for the next try after 24 minutes as Connacht capitalised on three successive penalties to touch. A Gavin Thornbury lineout take and drive was finished by flanker Eoghan Masterson, the centurion celebrating his final match in a Connacht jersey, along with Ultan Dillane.
However, on the stroke of half-time the visiting fullback Lorenzo Pani crossed for a try to narrow the deficit to 17-8 before Connacht bagged their fourth within on 50 minutes. A sweeping move, which began with Dylan Tierney-Martin in his first start, was finished by right wing John Porch to extend the lead to 22-8.
However, changes to the Italians pack provided fresh impetus, and when replacement prop Matteo Nocera barged over, it narrowed the deficit to 22-13. With 10 minutes remaining, the Italians took control and were rewarded with just two minutes remaining when centre Enrico Lucchin dived over, with Canna converting – but it was not enough to deny Connacht on the day.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: Canna pen 0-3; 7: Marmion try 5-3; 17:Murray try 10-3; 25:E Masterson try, Carty con 17-3; 40: Pani try 17-8. HT: 17-8. 56: Porch try 22-8; 67: Nocera try 22-13; 77: Lucchini try 22-20.
CONNACHT: Oran McNulty; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Dylan Tierney-Martin, Denis Buckley, Finlay Bealham; Gavin Thornbury, Niall Murray; Eoghan Masterson, Seán Masterson, Cian Prendergast
Replacements: Colm Reilly for Marmion (50 mins), Conor Fitzgerald for Caty (53),Dave Heffernan for Dylan Tierney-Martin, Matthew Burke for Bealham, S Illo for for Buckley (all 59), Ultan Dillane for Thornbury (60), Abraham Papali'I for E Masterson (60), Sammy Arnold for Farrell (68).
ZEBRE PARMA: Lorenzo Pani; Asaeli Tuivuaka, Franco Smith Jr, Enrico Lucchin, Jacopo Trulla; Carlo Canna, Chris Cook; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi, Eduardo Bello; David Sisi (capt), Andrea Zambonin; Luca Andreani, Jacopo Bianchi, Taina Fox-Matamua
Replacements: Giampietro Ribaldi for Bigi and Matteo Nocera for Bello (both 50 mins), Giampietro Buonfiglio for Bello, Nicolò Casilio for Fox-Matamua (both 58), Alessandro Fusco for Tuivaka and L Krumov for Zambonin (both 60), Junior Laloifi for Smith (63).
Referee: Adam Jones