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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Zebre v Connacht

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Familiar opponents stand between Connacht and their first away victory in this season’s RaboDirect PRO12, as Pat Lam’s men play Zebre for the fourth time since September.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Sunday, February 23

ZEBRE (12th) v CONNACHT (11th), Stadio XXV Aprile, 5.30pm local time/4.30pm Irish time (live Sport Mediaset/highlights TG4)

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Team News: The Connacht team to face Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile on Sunday has been named. Head coach Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to the side that defeated Edinburgh.

Galway-born Darragh Leader, who made an appearance off the bench last weekend, is named at full-back for his fifth start of the season.

Dan Parks replaces the injured Craig Ronaldson at out-half and the former Scotland international is named in an otherwise all-Irish qualified Connacht team.

The only change in the pack comes with the introduction of Academy forward Eoghan Masterson who slots in at openside flanker to link up with Andrew Browne and captain John Muldoon in the back row.

This is a second senior cap for the 20-year-old Masterson who made his debut at number 8 against the Scarlets in November.

Changes on the bench include a call-up for Academy prop Finlay Bealham and fit-again out-half Miah Nikora following his return from a long-term shoulder injury.

Robbie Henshaw trained with the Ireland squad all week and remains on international duty for the weekend.

Meanwhile, Zebre boss Andrea Cavinato has made four changes in personnel to the team that lost 36-8 to Munster in Cork.

The most notable inclusion is ex-Connacht player Troy Nathan who will line out at out-half for the Italians, facing a number of his former team-mates. Nathan is a permit player who is now plying his trade with Lazio Rugby.

Ruggero Trevisan returns at full-back with Dion Berryman reverting to the right wing, while prop Salvatore Perugini and flanker Emiliano Caffini are the alterations in the pack. Perugini is back from a spell out with a neck injury.

Zebre are without 10 of their Italy internationals who are part of the extended Italian squad for their Six Nations clash with Scotland.

Alberto Saccardo, who provides back row cover on the bench, is the only potential debutant of the three permit players listed among the replacements.

ZEBRE: Ruggero Trevisan; Dion Berryman, Kameli Ratuvou, Roberto Quartaroli, Giovanbattista Venditti; Troy Nathan, Brendon Leonard; Salvatore Perugini, Tommaso D’Apice, Dario Chistolini, Michael van Vuuren, George Biagi, Emiliano Caffini, Andries van Schalkwyk (capt), Samuela Vunisa.

Replacements: Lorenzo Giovanchelli, Andrea de Marchi, Luca Redolfini, Filippo Cazzola, Alberto Saccardo, Alberto Chillon, Giulio Bisegni, Giulio Toniolatti.

Trevisan returns at full-back, Nathan, Perugini, Caffini

CONNACHT: Darragh Leader; Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fionn Carr; Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Jason Harris-Wright, Rodney Ah You, Michael Swift, Michael Kearney, Andrew Browne, Eoghan Masterson, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: David Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, JP Cooney, Aly Muldowney, George Naoupu, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Danie Poolman.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Giuseppe Vivarini, Elia Rizzo (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Alan Falzone (Italy)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Zebre to win: 13/10; Draw: 20/1; Connacht to win: 4/7

Pre-Match Quotes: Pat Lam (Connacht) – “With injuries from last week, we’ve been forced to make some frontline changes but again it’s a brilliant opportunity for our young Academy players Darragh Leader, Eoghan Masterson and Finlay Bealham to step up and make their mark.

“There is a real mixture of youth and experience in this Connacht side but it’s also pleasing that we can name 20 Irish qualified players in a squad of 23.

“There was definitely a sense of relief to get the win against Edinburgh last week but we have set targets for this block of games and we go to Italy with our own expectations on how we play this game and force the outcome.

“Having played Zebre so frequently, and with three wins from three this season, the pressure is on us to deliver again.

“But we can’t underestimate Zebre. They have always threatened us and they will be targeting this game just as much as we are. It’s up to us now to get the job done this weekend and push up that table.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Zebre – Points: Luciano Orquera 84; Tries: Leonardo Sarto 3; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 71; Tries: Matt Healy, Fionn Carr 3 each


Friday, September 7, 2012 – Zebre 17 Connacht 30, Stadio XXV Aprile
Friday, March 1, 2013 – Connacht 23 Zebre 19, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – Connacht 25 Zebre 16, the Sportsground


– Zebre’s only previous home victory came against Benetton Treviso on January 4, while they have been defeated in all 18 previous encounters with Irish provinces in all competitions

– Connacht’s 11-7 win over Edinburgh last Saturday ended a three-match losing streak in the RaboDirect PRO12

– The westerners are still without a victory away from home in the league this season, but did win twice on their travels in the Heineken Cup, at Zebre and notably at Toulouse

– Connacht have won all seven previous contest they have had with Zebre in all competitions