Connacht are not taking Sunday’s opponents Zebre lightly when the two clash in the RaboDirect Pro 12 in Parma. Despite a 100 per cent return from their seven matches with the Italians to date, Sunday’s fixture has all the hallmarks of a cup final. Last weekend’s Connacht’s hard-earned win over Edinburgh ensured they leapfrogged Zebre in the league. And now Pat Lam’s side need to carve out their eighth victory if they do not want to make a swift return to the bottom of the table.
Lam, still without a host of regular players, is unlikely to make many changes from the side that prevailed by 11-7 over Edinburgh at the Sportsground. The main casualty from that fixture was Ronan Loughney, who was forced off with a calf injury. Andrew Browne suffered a rib strain, but should be fully fit, while Danie Poolman is available and will be included in the travelling squad. Dave Nolan, after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, is also back with the squad having played for club fixtures, while it is hoped Gavin Duffy will also be fully fit to travel. Lam says despite Connacht’s strong record against Zebre, his squad cannot afford to take anything for granted. “It has been discussed this week Our focus is on getting the win, but around that sits complacency, expecation, etc, so we need to focus on what we have to do collectively to get the win,” he says. “Zebre have certainly changed a lot since we played them. Although the scorelines at the end have been favaourable, we have come away pretty frustrated from some of those games. They will back this game too at home and the expectation is on us, so we weed to have a good week.”
Lam says the youngsters need to front up again.
“There is a lot of experience missing, but guys needs to step up. Certainly it’s a place where guys have been, so that helps.” On the last occasion Connacht swept Zebre away with a dominant Heineken Cup performance to win by 33-6. On that occasion Dan Parks nailed 14 points before the break, while two forward tries were engineered by assistant coach Dan McFarland.
Connacht’s pack was once again to the fore against Edinburgh with Michael Swift’s second-half try ensuring the home side bagged a much-needed Pro 12 win.