Connacht zone in on top-three place and added extras
Pro14 preview: Zebre v Connacht (Kick-off: 5.30pm) – Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma.On TV: Live on Eir Sport 1, TG4
Connacht will be relieved to be able to call on Jack Carty after his injury in their European Challenge Cup defeat to Sale. Photograph: Inpho
Connacht head to Parma for what probably amounts to a must-win game if they are to secure a top-three place in Conference A and with it both a place in the Guinness Pro14 play-offs and automatic qualification for next seasons’ Champions Cup.
Accordingly, Andy Friend has travelled with more or less a full-strength side save for Bundee Aki, who is rested, in making 11 changes from the starting XV which went out of the European Challenge Cup away to Sale a week ago.
Importantly though, one of the four retained is Jack Carty after his injury scare last week given the outhalf is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. Caolin Blade comes in to partner him, with Kieran Marmion to be sprung from the bench.
Amongst those restored are fullback Tiernan O’Halloran, centre Tom Farrell, winger Matt Healy lock Ultan Dillane and the backrow of Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a and captain Jarrad Butler.
“We have picked a strong side and a side capable of going to Zebre and winning the game,” said Friend. “We are fully aware of the dangers that Zebre can present, particularly when they are at home. There are a number of our boys who were not involved in Europe last weekend, so they are coming back in fresh after that break and that brings more energy to the group.”
“We said all along that we want to be in the knockout stages of the Guinness Pro14 and with three games to go, our destiny is still in our own hands. If we keep winning we will be in that playoff spot so that is our sole focus away to Zebre on Saturday”.
Michael Bradley makes four changes from the side which initially rattled Munster in Thomond Park against the side he used to coach, calling up winger Mattia Bellini, out-half Francois Brummer, scrum-half Joshua Renton and Italian-Argentine tight-head prop Marco Ciccioli, who will make his full debut.
Zebre have lost 11 Pro14 games in a row since beating Edinburgh at home last October, although Connacht have lost on their last two visits to Parma.
ZEBRE: Edoardo Padovani; Mattia Bellini, Giulio Bisegni, Tommaso Boni, James Elliott; Francois Brummer, Joshua Renton; Renato Giammarioli, Maxime Mbandà, Jimmy Tuivaiti, George Biagi (capt), David Sisi, Marco Ciccioli, Oliviero Fabiani, Andrea Lovotti. Replacements: Massimo Ceciliani, Daniele Rimpelli, Giosué Zilocchi, Leonard Krumov, James Brown, Guglielmo Palazzani, Nicolas De Battista, Gabriele Di Giulio
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Darragh Leader, Tom Farrell, Peter Robb, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (capt). Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conan O’Donnell, Joe Maksymiw, Robin Copeland, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Cian Kelleher.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)