Connacht ring the changes for Zebre’s visit

Pat Lam gives a debut to outhalf Steve Crosbie for Sportsground clash

Outhalf Steve Crosbie will begin a new half-back partnership with John Cooney. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho

Connacht v Zebre, Sportsground (7.35pm, Live TG4)

An almost complete clean out of the Connacht players that began in Italy last week leaves just Danie Poolman, Niyi Adeolokun and Bundee Aki among Friday night’s starters.

Coach Pat Lam was always aware that with just a five-day turnaround rotation was going to happen. That means a debut for 24-year-old outhalf Steve Crosbie, who begins a new half-back partnership with John Cooney.

Tom Farrell and Stacey Ili add more youth to the backline as Connacht face Zebre for the fourth time this season, having won the previous three matches.


With the Six Nations observing its second break, Zebre welcome the return of four internationals: centre Tomasso Boni, prop Dano Chistolini, number eight Frederico Ruzza and hooker Tommaso D’Apice.

But they also require two permit players Ivan Francescato and Matteo Cornelli from the main Italian league Eccellenza, both of them forwards.

John Muldoon takes a well-earned break having started all but one game this season with the captain’s armband going to Tom MacCartney with Eoghan Masterson making his return to number eight.

The 23-year-old has not played for Connacht for 12 months and joins flankers Eoin McKeon and Naulia Dawai.

“I’m delighted to see Eoghan (Masterson) and Andrew (Browne) make their return to match action at home tomorrow night,” said Lam.

“We know that we can expect a tough, physical challenge. It’s vital that we give them the respect they deserve.”

CONNACHT: D Poolman; N Adeolokun, B Aki, T Farrell, S Ili; S Crosbie, J Cooney; R Loughney, T McCartney, D Robertson-McCoy, L Stevenson, A Browne, E McKeon, N Dawai, E Masterson. Replacements: D Hefferenan, D Buckley, F Bealham, Q Roux, J Muldoon, K Marmion, C Ronaldson, T O'Halloran.

ZEBRE: D Berryman; M Bellini, T Boni, T Castello, L Greef; S Bordoli, G Palazzani; B Postiglioni, O Fabiani, D Christolini, Q Geldenhuys, V Bernabo (C), M Cornelli, G Koegelenberg, F Ruzza. Replacements: T D'Apice, A De Marchi, B Le Roux, J Furno, M Archetti, C Engelbrecht, M Peatchetti, G Roan

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 64th competition game).

Verdict: Connacht win.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times