Connacht expecting Zebre to prove different proposition

Pat Lam believes Wasps’ humiliation of Italian club will inspire a backlash this week

Craig Ronaldson: will form a new midfield combination with Peter Robb. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Craig Ronaldson: will form a new midfield combination with Peter Robb. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Torrential rain and lightning forced a Guinness Pro12 game between these sides in Parma earlier in the season to be abandoned at half-time. Zebre led 22-10 at that point, so Connacht won’t be taking anything for granted here.

It was a watershed of sorts for the Irish province as their form picked up thereafter following that reprieve. They have enjoyed victories over Edinburgh, Ulster and last weekend in their opening Champions Cup match a particularly memorable win over Toulouse.

Connacht coach Pat Lam has presided over a squad bedevilled by injury this season, the latest of which sees Tiernan O’Halloran sidelined. Cian Kelliher switches to fullback, while New Zealander Stacey Ili starts his first match for the province on the left wing.

Bundee Aki is rested so there is a new midfield combination with Peter Robb partnering Craig Ronaldson. Aki has been the fulcrum of his team’s attack so the load may be a little heavier in his absence from an attacking perspective in particular.

The one aspect of an Italian side’s performance that rarely fluctuates is the quality of their set piece. Hooker Shane Delahunt comes in for his first game of the season. JP Cooney is introduced at loosehead prop while Irish international Finlay Bealham switches to the other side of the scrum.

Ten alterations

Zebre make 10 changes following their concession of 82 points in defeat to Wasps last week. Lam admitted: “With Zebre’s target of winning their first Champions Cup game, we are fully expecting to see the real Zebre front up at home.

“Our whole week has been focused on our continued improvement in team performance that will give us the best chance to face their challenge head on. The best thing about our improved performances individually and collectively as a team is that it has brought back good competition for places.”

Connacht look a little light up front and the new combinations behind the scrum will need to gel quickly. They have never lost to Zebre in Europe and while that record should be maintained it won’t be easy.

ZEBRE: E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; M Mbanda, J Meyer, D van Schalkwyk. Replacements: T D’Apice, B Postiglioni, G Roan, J Furno, F Ruzza, G Palazzani, T Castello, G D’Onofrio.

CONNACHT: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson, S Ili; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, S Delahunt, F Bealham; Q Roux, A Browne; S O’Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, D Robertson McCoy, C Carey, U Dillane, E McKeon, C Blade, S O’Leary, B Aki.

Referee: M Raynal (France)

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