14-men Connacht hit Zebre for seven to secure ‘crucial’ Pro14 win
Coach Andy Friend praises side’s performance but believes they can further improve
Connacht’s Stephen Kerins in action during their victory over Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma. Photograph: Sighinolfi Luca/Inpho
Connacht produced a seven-try haul when overpowering Italian side Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi yesterday, jumping into second place in Conference B on the Guinness Pro14 table.
In a game which marked Ultan Dillane’s 100th cap, and the return of backrow Sean O’Brien from a long-term injury, Andy Friend’s side, with a game in hand, ensured they leapfrogged Cardiff, Scarlets and Edinburgh. That they were forced to do with 14 men for 24 minutes when replacement Abraham Papali’i was red-carded “took a bit of the shine off”, said Friend.
“I thought it was harsh – head on head – like no one leads with the head on purpose – but at the same time you have to protect players. It is one we will be keen to review. I felt for Abraham. He has worked really hard on his discipline and trying to make sure he is having a positive impact.”
However, it was still a “crucial win” for Connacht, and Friend was impressed with his team’s control.
“We executed well on the whole, but we can be better. And that is what we need to do – keep striving for that best performance which is not too far away. Great to have Sean [Masterson] back, his first 80 minutes of football, Colm Rielly, I thought he was really good tonight. There are some good rugby players coming through and it’s about us continuing to build with every game and every player – a step in the right direction.”
Yet it had looked like some old frailties had returned to haunt Connacht when Michael Bradley’s side bagged a try within a minute. Employing a long kick out, which Connacht failed to handle, Zebre quickly sent the ball wide and centre Tommaso Boni exploited a gap in defence to score a try with outhalf Antonio Rizzi adding the extras.
Conancht then took control of territory and possession, Jack Carty potting two penalties before the opening try on 21 minutes. Carty’s kick to the corner provided the platform, and flanker Sean O’Brien claimed the touchdown to put his side into the lead which they never relinquished.
Before the break left wing Alex Wootton bagged his brace, the first following scrumhalf Colm O’Rielly’s impressive 30-metre break, and the second when he went end to end from an intercept for a 7-23 lead.
The bonus point was secured when Sam Arnold scored the fourth try within minutes of the second half, and there was no way back for the Italian side. Tom Daly added two more tries, and a penalty try completed the scoring as Zebre’s only score of the second half came from hooker Marco Manfredi following O’Brien’s red card.
Scoring sequence: 1m Boni try, Rizz con 7-0; 6m Carty pen 7-3; 11m Carty pen 7-6; 21m O’Brien try 7-11; 35m Wootton try 7-16; 41m Wootton try, Carty con 7-23. HT 7-23; 42m Arnold try 7-28; 49m Daly try 7-33; 58m Manfredi try 12-33; 71m penalty try and con 12-40; 80m Daly try, Fitzgerald con 12-47.
ZEBRE: J Laloifi, G Onofrio, G Bisegni (C), T Boni, G Di Giulio, A Rizzi, J Renton, A Lovotti, M Manfredi, E Bello, L Krumov, M Kearney, L Masselli, R Giammarioli, D Sisi.
Replacements: Nicolò Casilio for Renton (40), Ricccardo Brugnara for Lovotti (53), Massimo Ceciliani for Masselli (50), Paolo Pescetto for Boni (56),Oliviero Fabiani for Manfredi (59) Matteo Nocera for Sisi (59), Michelangelo Biondelli for Di Guillio(65).
CONNACHT: J Porch, S Arnold, T Farrell, T Daly, A Wootton, J Carty, C Reilly, D Buckley, S Delahunt, J Aungier, E Masterson, G Thornbury, S O’Brien, S Masterson, J Butler (C).
Replacements: U Dillane for Thornbury (44), J Murphy for Delahunt (47), P McAllister for Buckley (56), D Robertson-McCoy for Aungier, U Dillane for Thornbury (44), A Papali’i for O’Brien (50m), Peter Sullivan for Wootton (53), Kerins for Reilly (59), C Fitzgerald for Carty (59), P Sullivan for Wootton (53).
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)