23 May, 12:21
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club is delighted to announce that tickets for the GUINNESS Series 2013 will go on sale on ticketmaster.ie at 10am on Thursday, May 30.
Miah Nikora, the province's only scorer in last weekend's disappointing loss to Cardiff, tagged on a late penalty to widen the margin against a combative Zebre side.
The hosts hit back with a well-worked try from Samuele Pace, who was sin-binned soon after and Connacht reasserted themselves through Nikora's place-kicking - he finished with 15 points - and a George Naoupu try.
Into the final quarter, Zebre hit back as big South African Andries van Schalkwyk rumbled over for their second converted try and Luciano Orquera's late penalty saw them pick up their first league point.
Eric Elwood's men had to be on guard as an injury-time surge almost led to the Italians grabbing a third try, but Connacht had the final say through Mike McCarthy's opportunist effort.
The visitors showed some early intent, Ethienne Reynecke carrying well and then holding fort at the back of a rolling maul in the Zebre 22.
Both sides coughed up soft penalties, but Connacht settled quickly and Johnny O'Connor hounded Alberto Chillon into a turnover which led to the province getting their first shot at the posts.
Nikora nailed the difficult kick from the right to put his side into a deserved lead, yet Connacht struggled to build on the score with Zebre succeeding in slowing up their ruck ball.
Mauro Bergamasco and Josh Sole, in particular, put their bodies about for the Italians and Orquera was narrowly off target with a penalty attempt from the left.
Although Mata Fifita and Fetu'u Vainikolo provided some regular thrust, Connacht were too lateral at times and Zebre's committed defence did its job.
But they managed to open up the home defence to telling effect on the half hour. Denis Buckley swooped to win turnover ball, setting up a string of passes from which Griffin threaded an intelligent kick through for O'Halloran to gather, evade a tackle and score to the right of the posts.
It was a confidence-boosting try, Nikora adding the conversion and shortly afterwards pinging a pinpoint kick away towards the left corner.
The New Zealander increased his influence with a well-struck penalty in the 38th minute, punishing Zebre for going straight in off their feet at a central ruck.
But Zebre were right back in the hunt thanks to that try four minutes into the second half.
From a lineout near halfway, Tito Tebaldi linked well with Bergamasco and the latter's pass back inside sent Pace bursting through the middle and the winger handed off Gavin Duffy's attempted tackle before touching down behind the posts.
Orquera added the conversion for a 13-7 scoreline, however there was another twist two minutes later when Pace was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on an airborne Duffy.
Zebre showed a streak of indiscipline again as van Schalkwyk took a Connacht lifter out at a close-in lineout, allowing Nikora to slot his third successful penalty.
Even better followed for Elwood's charges, with number 8 Naoupu wrestling free from Orquera's grasp to lunge over on a muscular drive for the line.
Television match official Carlo Damasco confirmed the try and Nikora converted. The concession of that score brought about a renewed effort from the Zebre forwards.
Their South African number 8 van Schalkwyk broke off the back of a scrum to power over for a seven-pointer, and Connacht had to soak up further pressure after replacement David Gannon saw yellow for taking a player out in the air.
In a scrappy conclusion, replacements Luca Redolfini and Rodney Ah You were sin-binned for tussling off the ball and a 79th minute penalty from Orquera netted a bonus point for Zebre.
Nikora did well to cover at scrum half owing to an injury to Frank Murphy and although Connacht were on the defensive for much of the remaining minutes, they struck for a decisive third try in the dying seconds.
The ball was hacked downfield, Zebre retrieved possession near their posts but a poor pass was seized upon by McCarthy who was rewarded for sprinting after the initial kick. Nikora converted to complete his six-shot 100% kicking return.
|Zebre Score Card|
|Dries van Schalkwyk||1||5|
|Connacht Rugby Score Card|