Connacht keep Champions Cup hopes alive with bonus point win

Pat Lam’s side remain in top six contention after comprehensive victory in balmy Parma

Matt Healy crosses to score one of Connacht’s tries in their 40-10 win over Zebre in Parma. Photograph: Inpho

Matt Healy crosses to score one of Connacht’s tries in their 40-10 win over Zebre in Parma. Photograph: Inpho

 

Zebre 10 Connacht 40

Connacht live to fight another day for Champions Cup qualification after a comprehensive victory over Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday.

Having avoided the worst case scenario of a loss in 20 degree heat, Connacht are still clinging to hopes of either a top six - or perhaps more realistically a seventh play-off - when they go into their final Guinness Pro 12 fixture next weekend.

It will be tough - up against league leaders Ospreys - and they will be hoping Leinster do the business in Edinburgh, who surprisingly fell to the Dragons on Friday evening. However it ensures Connacht, in overtaking the Scottish side and levelling with the Scarlets, who play Cardiff on Sunday, have produced a winning performance under pressure to achieve a record 10th Pro victory this season.

Connacht scorned the first opportunity to put points on the board with what looked like a straightforward penalty in front of the posts, but a nervy start from Jack Carty saw his effort just shade the outside of the upright.

However five minutes later Connacht grabbed the opening try when hooker Tom McCartney secured an overthrown Zebre line-out, and Matt Healy scorched down the left wing finding scrumhalf John Cooney in support who raced in to touch down. Carty added the extras for a deserved reward for a dominating opening.

There were some warning signs Zebre wanted to give their retiring Italian icon Mauro Bergamasco a winning farewell - their pack winning two penalties at scrum time, while Dion Berryman’s attacking play was only snuffed out by a try-saving O’Halloran tackle.

However the scrum once again provided the platform, and although centre Gonzalo Garcia was stopped just shy of the line, scrumhalf Brendan Leonard was on hand to pick up the loose ball to open their account with outhalf Luciano Orquera adding the conversion to level.

However a bone-crunching tackle from Robbie Henshaw turned over possession and Matt Healy raced through for a second try, with Carty again converting.

Although Orquera stroked a 32m penalty through the uprights to close the gap to 10-14, Connacht struck before the break - Cooney finishing off for his second try from a rehearsed set-piece line-out for a 21-10 lead.

The bonus point came courtesy of two penalties to touch when they were able drive over the line with Eoghan Masterson claiming the fourth try after 56 minutes, putting Connacht 10-26 ahead. And Connacht wrapped up the game when, from a creaking scrum on their own line, Marmion’s attack down the right wing was finished by a supporting Tiernan O’Halloran.

Replacement outhalf, Academy player Shane O'Leary, in his first start, added the extras, and then grabbed his first try and converted for a healthy 40-10 victory.

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