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Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Zebre

Heineken Cup Preview: Connacht v Zebre

Connacht will match their best ever return in a Heineken Cup season – three wins last year – if they can overcome Italian visitors Zebre at the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, January 11

CONNACHT (3rd) v ZEBRE (4th), the Sportsground, 3.40pm (live Sky Sports 2 red button/Sky Sports Xtra/Galway Bay FM/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has named his side to face Zebre in round 5 of the Heineken Cup at the Sportsground on Saturday.

There are just two personnel changes to the westerners’ starting line-up this week, with both of those switches occurring in the pack.

Jake Heenan, who missed out on the last two games due to injury, is named to start in the back row. John Muldoon returns to his regular position of blindside flanker, having lined out at openside in Heenan’s absence.

Portumna man Muldoon will also captain the side for this round 5 clash after Craig Clarke was ruled out with a neck injury sustained against Leinster last time out.

In the New Zealander’s place, Andrew Browne slots into the second row to partner Michael Kearney.

In the front row, Sligo-born hooker Sean Henry, whose last game was against Toulouse in the home Heineken Cup tie last month, has returned from injury to start against the Italians.

The same all-Irish qualified back-line that started against Leinster is selected to face Zebre, with Kieran Marmion at scrum half, Jack Carty at out-half, Eoin Griffin and Robbie Henshaw in midfield and Matt Healy, Fionn Carr and Darragh Leader in the back-three.

Mayo man Gavin Duffy is named on the replacements bench.

Tickets for Connacht v Zebre this weekend can be purchased online from tickets.ie, from the Connacht Rugby Ticket Office at the Sportsground or from Centra and SuperValu stores province-wide.

Adult tickets start at €;30 while it is €;10 for all juniors.

Meanwhile, Zebre boss Andrea Cavinato has made three changes in personnel to the team that claimed the club’s maiden home success over Italian rivals Benetton Treviso last Saturday.

That result actually lifted Cavinato’s charges above Connacht into 11th place in the RaboDirect PRO12 ahead of the sides’ second Heineken Cup meeting of the season.

There are two changes up front with George Biagi and Filippo Ferrarini starting in the second row and back row respectively, while Giulio Toniolatti comes in for Giovanbattista Venditti in the back-three with Dion Berryman moving to the left wing.

The Italians, who are bottom of Pool 3, have yet to win a Heineken Cup tie in their two seasons in the tournament and will want to end a run of 10 successive European defeats.

They went down 33-6 to Connacht in Parma in round 2, but will arrive on the west coast of Ireland in better shape now than they were then – buoyed particularly by last weekend’s 14-12 derby victory over Treviso.

Cavinato said: “The win (againstTreviso) gave us plenty of encouragement ahead of the game in Galway on Saturday. When the result goes against you, you’re often aware of the good work but end up frustrated.

“Against Treviso that wasn’t the case. We need to make up for the poor displays that we’ve shown in Europe this year. We need to play well in Europe, starting this weekend against Connacht.”

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Fionn Carr, Robbie Henshaw, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Nathan White, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, John Muldoon (capt), Jake Heenan, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Dan Parks, Gavin Duffy.

ZEBRE: Guglielmo Palazzani; Giulio Toniolatti, Kameli Ratuvou, Gonzalo Garcia, Dion Berryman; Luciano Orquera, Alberto Chillon; Matias Aguero, Davide Giazzon, Dario Chistolini, Quintin Geldenhuys (capt), George Biagi, Filippo Ferrarini, Andries van Schalkwyk, Samu Vunisa.

Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice, Andrea de Marchi, David Ryan, Marco Bortolami, Nicola Cattina, Roberto Quartaroli, Ruggero Trevisan, David Odiete.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Graeme Marshall (both Scotland)
Television Match Official: Iain Ramage (Scotland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Zebre to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “It’s no secret that we were frustrated with the manner in which we lost the game last week.

“But as everyone saw, there were some positives from that game, including the encouraging performances from our young back-line.

“We have decided to retain this selection for the game against Zebre – another huge challenge. This is Jack’s first taste of Heineken Cup rugby and also a first start for young Darragh (Leader) in the competition. It’s another big boost to their development as young Irish and Connacht-born players.

“It’s fantastic to welcome back Jake (Heenan) and Sean (Henry) to the matchday team. It’s a long season and the last numbers of games have been extremely physical, taking its toll on some of our players.

“We’ve had to plan without Craig (Clarke) this week but getting some players back from injury has meant we have the strength and depth to make the necessary changes.

“There’s a huge sense of anticipation around this game. We’re still alive in Europe but we need to make sure we are focused this week and do everything we can to get a good win at home against Zebre.

“We are not underestimating them. They are a team that have been improving with every game and they deserved their win against Treviso last week. They’ll be coming here full of confidence looking for their first ever win in the Heineken Cup.

“With the support of the special Sportsground crowd, it would be fantastic to do it this week against Zebre and then hopefully go further in the competition.”

Current Form – Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 25-16 at home to Zebre; Lost 21-10 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 18-7 at home to Ulster; Lost 43-26 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 23-3 away to Benetton Treviso; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-17 at home to Saracens; Won 33-6 away to Zebre; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 16-13 away to Leinster; Lost 19-12 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 24-21 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 43-10 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 16-14 away to Toulouse; Lost 37-9 at home to Toulouse; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 14-11 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 22-16 away to Munster; Lost 16-8 at home to Leinster

Zebre – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 25-16 away to Connacht; Lost 43-21 at home to Munster; Won 30-25 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 24-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 30-7 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Lost 38-5 away to Toulouse; Lost 33-6 at home to Connacht; (RaboDirect PRO12): Drew 16-16 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 25-23 away to Edinburgh; Lost 30-20 away to the Ospreys; Lost 19-11 at home to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 39-10 at home to Saracens; Lost 64-3 away to Saracens; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 13-6 away to Ulster; Lost 20-15 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 14-12 at home to Benetton Treviso

Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 50; Tries: Kieran Marmion 2; Zebre – Points: Luciano Orquera 11; Tries: Dion Berryman. Samu Vunisa 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 3

Saturday, October 19, 2013 – Pool 3 – Zebre 6 Connacht 33, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, January 18, 2013 – Pool 3 – Connacht 25 Zebre 20, the Sportsground
Saturday, October 13, 2012 – Pool 3 – Zebre 10 Connacht 19, Stadio XXV Aprile

Match Facts & Figures –

– Connacht have won all three of their meetings with Zebre in the competition, including a 33-6 win away from home in round 2

– Connacht have produced 30 kicks from hand per match so far this season, more than any other team in the Heineken Cup

– Exeter Chiefs (81%) are the only side to have a worse tackling success rate than Zebre (82%) this season

– Connacht have made (533) and missed (95) more tackles than any other side this season

Heineken Cup Records:

Connacht –
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6

Zebre –
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 3