With their quarter-final hopes extinguished, Connacht have the sole aim of recording their third victory in this season’s Heineken Cup when they host Italian side Zebre at the Sportsground on Friday.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Friday, January 18
CONNACHT (3rd) v ZEBRE (4th), the Sportsground, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2 red button or online/Galway Bay FM/highlights TG4)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has named his team to face Italian side Zebre in Friday’s Heineken Cup round 6 match at the Sportsground.
Elwood has made three personnel changes to the starting line-up following last weekend’s defeat to pool leaders Harlequins in London.
Out-half Dan Parks, who missed the round 5 outing due to injury, resumes his half-back partnership with Kieran Marmion.
There are no further changes to the back-line with Robbie Henshaw, who today received a call-up to the extended Ireland squad, named at full-back.
Also called up to train with the national squad next week was David McSharry, who will start at outside centre against Zebre alongside Eoin Griffin.
Tiernan O’Halloran, who is set to earn his 50th cap for the province, starts on the right wing while Fetu’u Vainikolo will hope to threaten on the other wing.
Up front, Denis Buckley, who is rested this week due to injury, makes way for Brett Wilkinson at loosehead prop.
Eoin McKeon has failed to shake off the ankle injury he picked up last weekend. And with George Naoupu still sidelined, Andrew Browne will move to the number 8 position with Michael Kearney named at blindside flanker.
On the bench, forwards JP Cooney and David Gannon, who were on British & Irish Cup duty last week, join the 23-man squad. Danie Poolman, on his recovery from injury, joins Paul O’Donohoe and Miah Nikora in the replacement backs.
Meanwhile, Zebre, who are winless in their maiden European campaign, will take to the pitch in Galway without captain Marco Bortolami and stand-in skipper Gonzalo Garcia.
In a much-changed starting line-up, regular scrum half Tito Tebaldi will start at full-back with Daniel Halangahu taking over from Luciano Orquera at out-half.
Giovanbattista Venditti, Roberto Quartaroli and Ruggero Trevisan are the only back-line changes from last weekend’s 32-6 defeat at home to Biarritz Olympique.
In the forwards, Salvatore Perugini, Davide Giazzon and Luca Redolfini form an all-new front row and Josh Sole switches to the second row to partner Mike van Vuren.
Mauro Bergamasco and Filippo Ferrarini, who moves to number 8, are retained in the back row with the 23-year-old Emiliano Caffini set to make his first Heineken Cup start at blindside flanker.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Michael Kearney, Johnny O’Connor, Andrew Browne.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, JP Cooney, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Eoghan Grace, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Danie Poolman.
ZEBRE: Tito Tebaldi; Giovanbattista Venditti, Roberto Quartaroli, Matteo Pratichetti, Ruggero Trevisan; Daniel Halangahu, Alberto Chillon; Salvatore Perugini, Davide Giazzon, Luca Redolfini, Mike van Vuren, Josh Sole, Emiliano Caffini, Mauro Bergamasco (capt), Filippo Ferrarini.
Replacements: Carlo Festuccia, Matias Aguero, David Ryan, Nicola Belardo, Andrea Manici, Luca Martinelli, Alberto Chiesa, Samuele Pace.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referees: Jean-Luc Rebollal, Vincent Blasco (both France)
Television Match Official: Daniel Irazoqui (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 1/14; Draw: 25/1; Zebre to win: 7/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “It is a huge game for the province. We are under pressure, but we have always bounced back,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“We are not happy with the manner of the defeat against Harlequins – that was the biggest since I have been in charge – and yes, we were up against a quality team, but still some of those scores we could have prevented.
“Now we have an opportunity here playing against a team we have already beaten twice (in the league and cup), so it’s a chance to finish the campaign on a high and I would be very proud if we could win that – three from six is a good return for us.
“I think we have no right to take anyone for granted. Every game we go into, we know we must have respect for who we are playing and work extermely hard for any of our victories.
“We need a workman-like performance and that’s how we have always won our games. We don’t win games by seven or eight playing well.
“We win games by everyone chipping in and putting their shoulders to the wheel and Friday’s match is no exception. Nothing will be easy, it will be hard-fought.”
Current Form – Connacht – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 13-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 30-17 away to Zebre; Lost 24-11 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 27-17 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-6 at home to Leinster; Lost 25-0 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-10 away to Zebre; Lost 30-22 at home to Harlequins; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 26-9 away to the Ospreys; Won 18-3 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 14-3 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 24-23 at home to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-14 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 17-0 away to Biarritz Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 16-12 at home to Munster; Lost 17-0 away to Leinster; Won 30-11 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Lost 47-8 away to Harlequins
Zebre – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 37-6 away to Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 30-17 at home to Connacht; Lost 41-10 away to Edinburgh; Lost 22-19 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 34-16 at home to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-10 at home to Connacht; Lost 38-17 away to Biarritz Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 29-3 away to Munster; Lost 22-13 away to the Scarlets; Lost 27-25 at home to Ulster; Lost 14-7 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 37-7 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 57-14 at home to Harlequins; Lost 53-5 away to Harlequins; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 10-3 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 26-18 away to Benetton Treviso; Lost 16-15 away to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Lost 32-6 at home to Biarritz Olympique
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 48; Tries: John Muldoon, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Johnny O’Connor 1 each; Zebre – Points: Daniel Halangahu 14; Tries: Filippo Ferrarini, Andries van Schalkwyk, Leonardo Sarto, Alberto Chillon, Ruggero Trevisan 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 13, 2012 – Pool 3 – Zebre 10 Connacht 19, Stadio XXV Aprile
Match Facts And Figures –
– Connacht have won their last four round 6 encounters in all ERC competitions, but they have lost three of their last four Heineken Cup games
– Zebre’s Filippo Ferrarini has made 44 successful tackles in the Heineken Cup this season, the 16th highest total of all players in the tournament and more than any other player from an Italian club
– Zebre’s tackle completion rate of 84% is the lowest across the Heineken Cup, who have on average shipped 40 points per game
– Fetu’u Vainikolo ranks just outside the top 10 for metres made this season. The Connacht winger has managed a 320m gain overall
Heineken Cup Records:
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6