Parks on song as Connacht are convincing winners in Parma
Connacht outhalf Dan Parks - looking to continue his kicking form against Leinster.
Connacht put a string of five defeats behind them with another worthy Heineken Cup display to overcome a tricky Zebre side in Parma by 33-6.
In joining all four provinces with European wins at the weekend, Connacht also matched Saracens with five championship points, behind leaders Toulouse in pool three. Although Connacht did not achieve a four-try bonus point, it was their biggest win over the Italian franchise in their five meetings.
Man of the match Dan Parks, relishing the ideal conditions and Connacht's game plan over the past two weeks, produced a near flawless kicking display to post 23 points, while No 8 George Naoupu and replacement flanker Mata Fifita scored a try in each half.
"To post 33 points over here was pretty good," said Parks." It was all about getting beyond the two-try lead and in the last 10 minutes trying to push on to get two more tries. Possibly we could have done it, but to Zebre's credit they kept coming and never gave up.
"It was good today I had nine shots at goal and certainly you need between six and seven to give yourself any chance to win games.
" I have been feeling a lot of inner pressure with the results not going our way. We had lost five in a row, so it was nice to get that monkey off our back and now we can push forward with two tough RaboDirect Pro 12 matches coming up before the break."
Parks nailed 14 points before the break, and allied to Naoupu's 29th minute try, Connacht led 19-3 at the break. Replacement Mata Fifita grabbed the second try after the break - with both efforts engineered by assistant coach Dan McFarland. Naoupu breached the defence from a five-metre line-out and had enough stretch to find the line, while Fifita tore around the front of the line-out from Craig Clarke's catch to add the second, stretching the lead to 33-6.
"I have to take my hat off to Dan [McFarland]," said Connacht coach Pat Lam. " Every game he looks for special line-outs that will work and we scored two straight off his blackboard. It just shows that when we play as a team, we can compete.
"I am extremely proud of the effort our players put in. There were some really good performances, particularly when you consider the amount of injuries. We had new guys stepping in, which is testament to our culture that they feel comfortable coming in and doing the job.”
Although not the most sparkling performance, it was workmanlike and composed. The hosts played more rugby, edging both territory and possession, but it was not reflected on the scoreboard with outhalf Luciana Orquera scoring just two penalties. Connacht's tackle count was double that of the Parma outfit, denying the hosts a much-needed try boost to keep their slim hopes alive. Andrew Browne, Craig Clarke and Jake Heenan, who is fulfilling his credentials as a genuine openside, led that tackle count, while once again the pack produced go-forward ball for Parks from secure set piece.
Although Connacht rode their luck early in the second half, they remained composed, absorbing everything thrown at them by fullback Ruggero Trevisan, Dion Berryman and the big ball carrying No 8 Samuela Vunisa.
"Away from home, and knowing this was a game Zebre really targeted, what is most pleasing is the boys really committed to the game plan," said Lam. "Our defence is testament to the team character. We are getting better and better in our defence by staying connected. We take this win now and prepare for a good derby against Leinster."
Connacht: J So'oialo, D Poolman, R Henshaw, C Ronaldson, M Healy, D Parks, K Marmion, B Wilkinson, S Henry, R Ah You, M Swift, C Clarke, A Browne, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Replacements, G Duffy for So'oialo 42, J Harris-Wright for Henry 44, R Loughney for Ah You 46, A Muldowney for Swift 54, M Fifita for Heenan and D McSharry for Henshaw 65, JP Cooney for Wilkinson 67, P O'Donohoe for Marmion 70.