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Heineken Cup Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Heineken Cup Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Boosted by their recent runaway win over Leinster, Connacht head into their second ever Heineken Cup campaign determined to show that they can mix it with European’s top teams on a consistent basis.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 3: Saturday, October 13

ZEBRE v CONNACHT, Stadio XXV Aprile, 2.35pm local time/1.35pm Irish time (live Galway Bay FM/RTÉ Radio 1 Extra/Sky Italia/highlights TG4)

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Team News: This weekend marks the first installment of Heineken Cup rugby and as Connacht travel to Parma to take on Italian newcomers Zebre, head coach Eric Elwood has made four changes to his starting pack.

Up front Adrian Flavin makes way for South African hooker Ethienne Reynecke with Denis Buckley and stand-in captain Nathan White forming an all-new front row trio.

Elsewhere in the pack, the fit-again John Muldoon, who returned from injury last weekend, replaces David Gannon in the back row.

There are no changes to the back-line with Academy members Kieran Marmion (scrum half) and Robbie Henshaw (full-back) both earning their seventh senior caps for the province.

Expecting the hosts to be fired up, Muldoon told the Galway Advertiser: “I think the fact that they are in the same situation as we were last year – their first time in the Heineken Cup – they will be excited and looking forward to it.

“And, having pushed us close before, they will think they threw the game away and that could make them more boisterous and make it a better atmosphere

“They are where we were last year, there is no expectation on them but it’s a different burden for us. It’s something we have to deal with and we have to come out and produce the goods.”

Meanwhile, centre Gonzalo Garcia leads a Zebre side that lost 34-16 to the defending RaboDirect PRO12 champions, the Ospreys, last Friday.

Garcia skippers the Parma outfit in the absence of his Italian international colleague Marco Bortolami who has had to undergo surgery on a troublesome shoulder injury for the third time.

Zebre are still searching for their first competitive win after losing their first five league games, including a 30-17 loss at home to Connacht last month.

Luciano Orquera has returned from injury to take his place at out-half, linking with Tito Tebaldi who also missed the Ospreys game. The rest of the back-line is unchanged with former Waratahs utility back Daniel Halangahu positioned at full-back.

Salvatore Perugini joins Davide Giazzon and Luca Redolfini in the front row, while Josh Sole and Nicola Belardo have been promoted to the second row and back row respectively.

ZEBRE: Daniel Halangahu; Giovanbattista Venditti, Matteo Pratichetti, Gonzalo Garcia (capt), Sinoti Sinoti; Luciano Orquera, Tito Tebaldi; Salvatore Perugini, Davide Giazzon, Luca Redolfini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Josh Sole, Nicola Belardo, Mauro Bergamasco, Andries van Schalkwyk.

Replacements: Carlo Festuccia, Matias Aguero, Carlo Fazzari, Mike van Vuren, Filippo Ferrarini, Luca Martinelli, Ruggero Trevisan, Leonardo Sarto.

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Ethienne Reynecke, Nathan White (capt), Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, David Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, David Moore, Miah Nikora, Mata Fifita.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Zebre to win: 9/5; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 4/9

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We definitely feel it’s a ‘must win’ game. We are putting pressure on ourselves because it is our first game in this year’s Heineken Cup and, if we are looking to build on last year’s experience, then we are targeting this match,” he told the Galway Advertiser.

“Zebre have changed their style of play and not only do they pose a huge threat in their back-line, but they have a very strong set piece. This is a game where we need to have our mind set to match them physically.

“After last year when there was so much euphoria being our first year in the Heineken Cup, there isn’t the same buzz about this match, particularly having played Zebre in the league already.

“It may not be the glamour fixture, but it is our first match in this season’s Heineken Cup and it is their first ever match in the tournament, so it’s a ‘must win’ for both sides and there is extra pressure.”

Current Form – 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

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

Previous European Meetings: 0

Match Facts And Figures –

– Connacht kick off their only second season in the top tier of European rugby following 15 years in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

– New signing Dan Parks, 14th in the all-time top scoring chart in Europe, will prove influential as he aims to add to his 355 points

– Eric Elwood’s men have already won in Parma this season, 30-17 in the RaboDirect PRO12, and aim to improve on their solitary win in the Heineken Cup

Heineken Cup Records:

Zebre –

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