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Heineken Cup Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Heineken Cup Preview: Zebre v Connacht

After going so close to upsetting Aviva Premiership pacesetters Saracens, Connacht have an immediate second bite at posting their first win in this season’s Heineken Cup against Italian hosts Zebre.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, October 19

ZEBRE (4th) v CONNACHT (3rd), Stadio XXV Aprile, 2.35pm local time/1.35pm Irish time (live Galway Bay FM/Sky Sports 2 red button/Sky Sports Xtra/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Connacht travel to Parma in northern Italy this weekend to play familiar opponents Zebre in round 2 of the Heineken Cup.

The province’s head coach Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to the team that started against Saracens last Friday.

In the backs, Matt Healy returns to his starting berth on the wing while Samoan international James So’oialo is named at full-back.

The 24-year-old So’oialo was brought on at inside centre against Saracens at the Sportsground for his first Connacht appearance.

Up front, Galway native Andrew Browne replaces the injured John Muldoon at blindside flanker. Most notably on the bench, David McSharry makes a return to the Connacht squad this weekend.

The 24-year-old McSharry, who earned his first Ireland Wolfhounds cap last season, got game-time with UCD and Connacht Eagles in recent weeks.

The talented centre’s last outing for Connacht came against Zebre in last January’s Heineken Cup pool game.

Meanwhile, the Zebre management have made five changes in personnel for their third European meeting with Connacht – the sides played in last season’s pool stages with the westerners winning both ties.

The Italians will field a completely new front row from the one which started last weekend’s 38-5 loss away to four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse.

Matias Aguero, hooker Tommaso D’Apice and Dario Chistolini will start up front for Andrea Cavinato’s side, with the second row and back row combinations unchanged – Marco Bortolami captains the team from lock.

In the backs, David Odiete will start in place of Giulio Toniolatti with Dion Berryman – Zebre’s try scorer against the French giants – switching wings.

Tommaso Iannone also switches to outside centre as fellow Italian international Luciano Orquera comes in to start at out-half. Fijian Kameli Ratuvou drops to the replacements bench.

ZEBRE: Ruggero Trevisan; Dion Berryman, Tommaso Iannone, Gonzalo Garcia, David Odiete; Luciano Orquera, Brendon Leonard; Matias Aguero, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini, Mike van Vuuren, Marco Bortolami (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Andries van Schalkwyk, Samu Vunisa.

Replacements: Davide Giazzon, Andrea de Marchi, Luciano Leibson, Emiliano Caffini, Filippo Cristiano, Alberto Chillon, Kameli Ratuvou, Leonardo Sarto.

CONNACHT: James So’oialo; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Craig Ronaldson, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift (capt), Craig Clarke, Andrew Browne, Jake Heenan, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, JP Cooney, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, Mata Fifita, Paul O’Donohoe, David McSharry, Gavin Duffy.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Zebre to win: 13/10; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 8/13

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Losing John Muldoon to injury, along with Eoin McKeon and Willie Faloon, was a huge blow to our back row. But Andrew Browne comes in as a straight replacement at 6 and has plenty of experience in that position.

“It’s great to welcome back Ronan Loughney as well as Jason Harris-Wright to the bench. But with the performance of last week’s front row against Saracens, they deserve another opportunity to back it up again this week.

“Matt Healy comes back in after injury and we Iook forward to seeing him continue the form he showed in the opening weeks of the season.

“James So’oialo starts in his preferred international position of 15 which gives Gavin Duffy a well-deserved break and a chance to make an impact from the bench. And Craig Ronaldson gets a second start at inside centre after such an encouraging performance against Saracens.

“Finally, after such a long time out, it’s great to have Dave McSharry back match fit and his experience will be vital off the bench.

“Against Zebre we’re under no illusions of the challenge we face. This is a game that they are desperate to win in their own back yard and they have openly targeted this one.

“But, after a good week’s training, it’s a challenge we look forward to facing head on.”

Andrea Cavinato (Zebre) – “The desire to play from the team was very positive (against Toulouse). If anyone says that we went to defend and limit the damage they are wrong – we always tried to play.

“There were errors in one-on-ones and in defence at times we were too aggressive and rushed out too quickly against the top team in France and one of the ten best teams in the world.

“The defeat against Newport had really worried me the previous week. For this game I need to see the glass half-full and be constructive.

“We gave it our all against Toulouse and we are continuing to improve as we have since the start of the season. That’s the positive aspect for us along with the fact we are able to score in every game.”

Current Form – 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

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

Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Zebre – Points: Dion Berryman 5; Tries: Dion Berryman 1; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 7; Tries: Kieran Marmion, Danie Poolman 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 2

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 And Figures –

– Having lost their seven matches to date in the Heineken Cup, Zebre are still searching for their first win in the competition

– The only two occasions Zebre have come within 10 points of a victory in this tournament was against Connacht last season

– Sean Henry was on target with all 11 of his lineout throws for Connacht against Saracens last weekend. No player in the tournament managed as many with perfect success rate

– Connacht were one of just two teams (Clermont Auvergne were the other) to maintain 100% success rates at both the lineout and scrum in round 1

Heineken Cup Records:

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

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