Connacht seek to make amends in Pro12 after two losses
Connacht’s Bundee Aki: switches to outside centre for clash with Zebre. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Zebre v Connacht. Stadio Lanfranchi, 5:05pm (Irish time)
There is a touch of second season syndrome affecting last season’s champions Connacht. While there is no panic yet in Galway, something on the board after 41-point and 32-point defeats in their opening two games is due. This weekend should be it.
Zebre, the perennial whipping boys of the league, shipped 59 points against Ospreys and just 11 to Newport and from their point of view they can say it’s less than Connacht. Zebre have also won a losing bonus point.
But Pat Lam, with 20 names on his injury list, understands that leaking 10 tries in two matches is poor and he has made six changes to the team that lost to Ospreys last week.
Bundee Aki and Eoin Griffin swap positions in midfield while 22-year-old former Leinster player Cian Kelleher starts on the wing after making his Connacht debut at fullback in the first round. Caolin Blade is also reintroduced at scrumhalf with Irish internationals, forward Ultan Dillane, scrumhalf Kieran Marmion and winger Matt Healy all lined up on the bench.
Last season’s champions have won all of their eight Pro12 meetings against Zebre, who are fielding Argentine prop Bruno Postiglioni on the bench and Italian international winger Giovanbattista Venditti.
History is with Lam on this one, even though the starting line-up in Parma is 15 Italian players, 14 of whom are internationals.
ZEBRE: E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, V Giovanbattista; C Canna, G Palazzani; A De Marchi, O Fabiana, P Ceccarelli, Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi, J Sarto, M Mbanda, F Ruzza. Replacements: D Tommaso, P Bruno, G Roan/D Christolini. G Koegelenberg, D Minnie, C Engelbrecht, T Castello, K Van Zyl
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, A Browne, E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon. Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, C Carey, U Dillane, R Moloney, K Marmion, S O’Leary, M Healy
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU).