Mils Muliaina makes his presence felt as Connacht go to town on Zebre

All Black legend makes debut in bonus-point victory over Italian side

Connacht 43 Zebre 3

Not the most auspicious occasion on a wet Galway evening for an All Black centurion to make his debut, but Mils Muliaina made his presence felt in Connacht's big bonus-point win over Zebre at the Sportsground.

In an error-strewn match, not helped by the incessant rain, Muliaina was able to demonstrate his class, particularly on the counter-attack, to be given a rousing ovation from the 5,486 crowd – one of the biggest for this visiting Italian side which props up the bottom of the Guinness Pro 12 table.

Connacht were clearly the superior side and their scrum once again provided the platform for this success as Italian indiscipline resulted in three sin-binnings as Connacht grabbed their fourth try bonus-point by the 65th minute.

Connacht were three points up at the third time of asking after 14 minutes – scrumhalf Ian Porter having missed two earlier penalties from just inside half-way.

Connacht were unlucky not have posted an opening try when centre Dave McSharry lost his footing in the wet conditions just a metre from the line after Muliaina had counter-attacked from deep, finding left wing Matt Healy who made the initial break up the blindside.

With a dominant scrum, Connacht should have been able to capitalise, but some poor kicking and a misfiring lineout allowed the Italians to launch their first attack, catching Connacht offside and opening their tally after 16 minutes through right wing David Odiete.

However, Zebre’s indiscipline at the breakdown and their repeated offending offside proved costly, with Porter extending the lead with a 19th-minute penalty, and Fillipo Christiano yellow carded.

The scrum once again provided the platform for Connacht and in the ascendency the ball was spread wide with Muliaina supplying right wing Danie Poolman who dived over in the corner.

Although Porter missed the conversion, he posted two penalties in quick succession before the break, and within six minutes of the restart Mick Kearney had grabbed the second try from a driving maul.

A new frontrow for Zebre seemed to give them a reprieve, but it was only temporary. A succession of scrum penalties resulted in a penalty try and three minutes later No 8 George Naoupu was able to feed replacement scrumhalf John Cooney who had a clear run up the wing for the fourth try.

A Zebre knock-on allowed replacement outhalf Jack Carty to kick ahead twice, pouncing for a fifth in the 68th minute.

“It was all about getting the job done,” said coach Pat Lam.”The forwards did really well again and we have the five points with a positive points differential.”

CONNACHT: M Muliaina; D Poolman, B Aki, D McSharry, M Healy; M Nikora, I Porter; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Loughney; M Kearney, Q Roux; J Muldoon (capt), W Faloon, G Naoupu.

Replacements: T McCartney for Harris-Wright (30 mins), JP Cooney for Porter (49 mins), F Bealham for Loughney, E McKeon for Naoupu (both 52 mins), A Browne for Kearney (54 mins), J Carty for Nikora, D Leader for Muliaina (both 62 mins), D Heffernan for Buckley (73 mins),

ZEBRE: H Daniller; D Odiete, G Bisegni, M Pratichetti, M Visentin; E Padovani, B Leonard; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, L Redolfini; A Ferreira, V Bernabo; M Bergamasco (capt), F Cristiano, A Van Schalkwyk.

Replacements: Sarto for Van Schalkwyk (half-time), L Leibson for Redolfini, Santamaria for Fabiano, Lovotti for De Marchi (all 46 mins), L Redolfini for Cristiano (61), A Chillon for Leonard (both 63 mins), E Padovani for M Bergamasco (69 mins), F Cristiano for Redolfini (71 mins), D Berryman for Visentin (72 mins). Yellow cards: C Filippo (25 mins) , A Ferreira (60 mins), A Lovotti (61 mins).

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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