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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Zebre

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Zebre

There will be a mix of old and new on show at the Sportsground on Saturday as Connacht, led by veteran lock Michael Swift, bid to get the Pat Lam era off to a winning start in the RaboDirect PRO12 against Zebre.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 7

CONNACHT v ZEBRE, the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Pat Lam has appointed Michael Swift as captain for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 opener against Zebre at the Sportsground.

Swift, the most-capped player in both Connacht and league history, will be joined by Andrew Browne in the second row.

Newcomer Craig Clarke has been ruled out of Saturday’s game due to a calf injury picked up in the pre-season friendly against Newcastle.

Brett Wilkinson, who was granted Irish citizenship last month having arrived at Connacht in 2006, makes up the front row trio with Jason Harris-Wright and Nathan White.

George Naoupu starts at number 8, earning his 50th cap for the province, and packs down alongside flankers John Muldoon and Willie Faloon.

In the backs, recent Ireland debutant Robbie Henshaw returns to the fray for his first Connacht game of the season at full-back.

The back-three is completed by Connacht’s most prolific try scorer and recent returnee, Fionn Carr, on the right wing and Matt Healy, who started two of the westerners’ three pre-season games, on the left.

On the bench, new signings Sean Henry, Aly Muldowney, Jake Heenan and Craig Ronaldson are all in line to make their competitive debuts for Connacht.

While Saturday’s match at the Sportsground will not be televised, Connacht Rugby will have live updates on their official Twitter account.

Connacht v Zebre tickets are still available from the Connacht Rugby office, online from tickets.ie and in Centra and SuperValu stores province-wide. Tickets start at just €;20 for adults, and all children’s tickets (4 to 17-years-old) are €;5.

Please not that an ‘on the day’ charge of €;3 will apply to all concession and adult tickets bought at the box office on matchday. There is no additional charge for children’s tickets. Click here for more on ticket prices for the 2013/14 season.

Meanwhile, Zebre will field a strong side in Galway headed up by their international captain Marco Bortolami and containing newcomers like full-back Dion Berryman and centre Kameli Ratuvou.

Berryman and his Kiwi compatriot, 13-times capped All Blacks scrum half Brendon Leonard, will start in the back-line alongside Fijian Ratuvou and Italian internationals Gonzalo Garcia, Giovanbattista Venditti, Luciano Orquera and Giulio Toniolatti, the latter having made the switch from Benetton Treviso.

There are two more debutants in the pack in Fijian number 8 Samuela Vunisa and tighthead Dario Chistolini, the South African-born Italy ‘A’ prop who previously played in England for Gloucester.

Bortolami, who was injured for the Mogliano and Calvisano games, returns to a pack which includes Zebre’s leading try scorer from last season’s league campaign – flanker Andries van Schalkwyk (6 tries).

CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Fionn Carr, Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, Matt Healy; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Jason Harris-Wright, Nathan White, Michael Swift (capt), Andrew Browne, John Muldoon, Willie Faloon, George Naoupu.

Replacements: Sean Henry, Rodney Ah You, Ronan Loughney, Aly Muldowney, Jake Heenan, Frank Murphy, Craig Ronaldson, Tiernan O’Halloran.

ZEBRE: Dion Berryman; Giovanbattista Venditti, Kameli Ratuvou, Gonzalo Garcia, Giulio Toniolatti; Luciano Orquera, Brendon Leonard; Matias Aguero, Davide Giazzon, Dario Chistolini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami (capt), Mauro Bergamasco, Andries van Schalkwyk, Samuela Vunisa.

Replacements: Andrea Manici, Luca Redolfini, Salvatore Perugini, George Biagi, Filippo Ferrarini, Alberto Chillon, Tommaso Iannone, Matteo Pratichetti.

Referee: Rhys Thomas (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Eddie Hogan O’Connell, Dave O’Flynn (both Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 1/5; Draw: 20/1; Zebre to win: 7/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “Everything we have been doing in pre-season has been geared towards this Saturday and we are ready to go.

“We know the importance of this game. Zebre are a tough side and are hanging out for a win. But we cannot worry about them. The focus is on us as a team, making sure we do exactly what we have been working on, that we have clarity in our jobs.

“We want the four points, we want the win, but the real focus is on us playing as a team. If we do that, the chances of getting the four points will increase.

“Ideally everyone wants to be higher (in the league) than we were last year. I think what Eric (Elwood) did the last couple of years in getting to eighth when you compare us with the other teams was massive, but we cannot focus on that. We won’t get there if we do.

“What I want realistically is that every day we are better, every game, but the work we do every day is about the performance we have on the weekend. If we focus on that, not the table, chances are we can get higher.”

Marco Bortolami (Zebre) – “It’s very difficult to target how many wins we’re going to get this year but if we can be competitive in every game with the right mentality and the right attitude until the end we will have opportunities to win games.

“I think every player must focus on their own performance because the result is at the end of the performance. What I’m trying to focus on as captain is on performance so every player has to give their best for 80 minutes and then we will get the reward.

“It’s not an easy season when you don’t get any wins but the attitude of the players was positive throughout the season and the way we performed at the end of the season was a sign that we were going in the right direction.

“We made the next step in pre-season, we worked very hard and tried to adjust what we do in our system – not change everything but give ourselves better chances to do things differently and I think we’re in a good position now.

“We had new coaches this year, with Andrea Cavinato now in charge. It’s always a big challenge to change coaching staff and get into a new system but the players have responded very well and we are very positive.”


Friday, September 7, 2012 – Zebre 17 Connacht 30, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, March 1, 2013 – Connacht 23 Zebre 19, the Sportsground


– Connacht tripped up in round one of the RaboDirect PRO12 last season with their 13-9 home defeat to the Cardiff Blues

– The westerners won just one of their last five fixtures of last season: 32-24 over Edinburgh at Murrayfield in round 20

– Connacht have not been defeated by an Italian side since they visited Aironi on January 7, 2012

– Zebre failed to win a game last season with the new Italian franchise struggling to cope with the intensity of the PRO12. However, they have recruited well in the summer and should pose a much stiffer threat this season

– The two sides met on four occasions last season (including two in the Heineken Cup), with Connacht running out victors on all four occasions, although the winning margin in the two most recent encounters was just five and four points respectively