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GUINNESS PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Zebre

GUINNESS PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Zebre

There is huge anticipation and excitement in Galway as the Connacht supporters await their first glimpse of Mils Muliaina in competitive action. Fellow new signings Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney are also set to play against Zebre tonight.

GUINNESS PRO12: Friday, November 21

CONNACHT (6th) v ZEBRE (11th), the Sportsground, 7.35pm (live TG4/Nuvolari TV/Galway Bay FM)

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Team News: All Black centurion Mils Muliaina will make his Connacht debut at the Sportsground, lining out at full-back in a side that sees seven changes since the trip to the Ospreys in the last round of GUINNESS PRO12 action.

Centre Bundee Aki will make his home debut and is one of only two players retained in the back-line with Matt Healy selected again on the left wing.

Out-half Miah Nikora has been handed his first start of the season and is partnered by scrum half Ian Porter, while Dave McSharry makes up the centre pairing with Aki. The 25-year-old Danie Poolman is recalled to the right wing.

Up front, there are two changes to the pack. Galway man Ronan Loughney switches to tighthead prop in the absence of the injured Nathan White and Rodney Ah You who remains with the Ireland squad.

Flanker Willie Faloon is named in the back row alongside captain John Muldoon and the province’s Player of the Month George Naoupu.

The most notable inclusion on the bench is former Auckland Blues front rower Tom McCartney, who linked up with Connacht from New Zealand at the start of the month.

McCartney can play at hooker or loosehead prop and the current unavailability of five front row players highlights the value of the 29-year-old’s versatility.

On-loan scrum half John Cooney (pictured below) is also included on the bench for his first home game, while Ireland squad member Darragh Leader has been released from camp to play a part in the PRO12 clash.

Connacht v Zebre tickets are selling fast but there are some remaining for the Main, Enclosed and new Seated Stand.

Starting at just €;20 for adults, tickets are available from tickets.ie, Centra & SuperValu stores province-wide or from the Connacht Rugby office at the Sportsground.

Meanwhile, with Italy hosting South Africa this weekend, Zebre boss Andrea Cavinato is without 13 Italian internationals for this round 8 trip to Galway.

Michele Visentin will make his PRO12 debut for Zebre on the left wing, having recovered from injury. He is one of seven personnel changes to the team that lost 28-13 at the Scarlets on November 1.

The only unchanged combinations are half-backs Edoardo Padovani and Brendon Leonard, Muliaina’s former Chiefs and New Zealand team-mate, and the back row trio of captain Mauro Bergamasco, Filippo Cristiano, Andries van Schalkwyk.

Zebre have two permit players on the bench – Viadana hooker Roberto Santamaria, who previously played in the league for Aironi, and Rugby Calvisano back rower Braam Steyn, who experienced PRO12 rugby with Zebre last season.

CONNACHT: Mils Muliaina; Danie Poolman, Bundee Aki, Dave McSharry, Matt Healy; Miah Nikora, Ian Porter; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Ronan Loughney, Michael Kearney, Quinn Roux, John Muldoon (capt), Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Andrew Browne, Eoin McKeon, John Cooney, Jack Carty, Darragh Leader.

ZEBRE: Hendrik Daniller; David Odiete, Giulio Bisegni, Matteo Pratichetti, Michele Visentin; Edoardo Padovani, Brendon Leonard; Andrea de Marchi, Oliviero Fabiani, Luca Redolfini, Andries Ferreira, Valerio Bernabo, Mauro Bergamasco (capt), Filippo Cristiano, Andries van Schalkwyk.

Replacements: Roberto Santamaria, Andrea Lovotti, Luciano Leibson, Jacopo Sarto, Braam Steyn, Alberto Chillon, Dion Berryman, Mirco Bergamasco.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Andy Brace, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Jude Quinn (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 1/9; Draw: 25/1; Zebre to win: 5/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “It’s fantastic to have our three new signings, Mils, Bundee and Tom, available for this game as we had planned.

“They have all settled in very well, getting to know their team-mates and the new systems and structures. All three are really looking forward to getting out on the field on Friday night in front of our home fans for the first time.

“We know there is a lot of anticipation around Mils’ debut. This is Connacht’s first All Black about to play at the Sportsground so it’s obviously very exciting for us and our supporters.

“While the expectation is high, we have to keep in mind that this will be his first game of rugby since March after returning from a long term injury. But Mils is a true professional and has shown his experience during rehab, training and off the field. He is gunning to get out there to perform for the team.

“Miah gets his first start this season at out-half after working extremely hard to come back from injury and has impressed us in training. It is a much-changed back-line from last time but one that we’re excited about. It’s great to have that extra depth in the squad to be able to make those changes.

“This week is huge for us. Games with Zebre have always been particularly tight as they are a proud team with a number of very experienced players. We are fully aware that we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal at any time on Friday.

“We haven’t had a game at home in nearly five weeks so there’s a great buzz about the place and we’re so looking forward to playing in front of a packed out Sportsground. We have three back-to-back home games coming up and protecting our unbeaten home record is very important to us.”

Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Connacht – Points: Craig Ronaldson 24; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Eoin McKeon 2 each; Zebre – Points: Kelly Haimona 22; Tries: Samuela Vunisa 2


Friday, September 7, 2012 – Zebre 17 Connacht 30, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, March 1, 2013 – Connacht 23 Zebre 19, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – Connacht 25 Zebre 16, the Sportsground
Sunday, February 23, 2014 – Zebre 19 Connacht 27, Stadio XXV Aprile


– Connacht’s only win in their last four GUINNESS PRO12 encounters was at home to Benetton Treviso in round 6

– The westerners are unbeaten in their last four matches at the Sportsground in all competitions this season, the last side to beat them there was Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 on May 3

– Connacht’s only defeat in their last 14 fixtures against Italian opponents was in Treviso in the PRO12 in October 2013

– Zebre’s lone victory in the PRO12 this season was 13-6 at home to Ulster in round 4

– Zebre have not won away from home in the league since beating Cardiff at the Arms Park in September 2013, but they did beat Brive 26-21 in France in the European Challenge Cup on October 24

– The two sides have met on eight previous occasions (four in the PRO12 and four in the European Cup), with Connacht taking the spoils on each occasion

– Only one Italian side has ever won in Galway: Treviso 15-13 in December 2011