Connacht’s Euro qualification on the line in Italy

Connacht know anything but a win against Zebre on Saturday evening (5.30pm ) will end their season.

As a result Pat Lam’s squad heads to Parma for this penultimate Guinness Pro 12 fixture prepared to put everything into bagging the much-needed win to keep their fading Champions Cup hopes alive.

Connacht have never lost to the Italian franchise, and now is not the time to start.

"If we lose this week, it's all over, it's finished. We have to put all our energy and focus on getting the win ourselves and see what happens elsewhere," he says.

However there is so much riding on this fixture for both sides. Zebre, despite their lowly position in the table, are still in the hunt for Champions Cup rugby if they overtake fellow Italians Treviso - the qualification rules state one of the Pro 12 teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy must be represented in the European elite tournament next year. Currently Zebre are just three points behind Treviso.

“Both sides need the win, and, in the past we have done well against them, but we will have to be at our best to do so again. We saw how they should have beaten Scarlets. They are direct and physical, and this is their last home game of the season. We will need to produce an accurate display.”

Accuracy is one of Lam’s mantras for Saturday’s game after creating some 37 chances against Glasgow last time out, but only securing 13 points in their 18-point loss to the league leaders.

“Our training has been skills-related - geared towards accuracy and converting chances. Against Glasgow those skills were found wanting under pressure - whether it was a a missed tackle or a pass that went behind.”

However Lam says the two weeks training has focused his squad for Saturday’s task.

“The players had the option of taking the week off, but they wanted to get back to work, which was pleasing. We knew straight after the final whistle that we had lost control and for the first time we had dropped out [of the top six]. Now instead of heads down, we are going after the 10 points. We cannot control what happens to other teams, only how we perform."

To that end senior players Michael Swift and Mils Muliaina delivered a presentation of Connacht’s achievements to date, which Lam says motivated the squad.

“ This group of players are coming into the last month of being together before the season’s end, and they put a real focus around that, which was really inspiring and motivating for us. But more importantly it was to get the win which would be a record 10th for us.”

With Leinster hosting Treviso, Zebre know they have a real chance to overtake their fellow Italians on the Pro 121 table. Connacht’s task is more difficult. A fired-up Edinburgh on 48 points play Dragons in Wales, and the Scarlets, on 49 points, are at home to Cardiff. Whatever those results, a win for Connacht, currently on 44 points, would still ensure that for the first time in the Pro 12 they would go into the last game of the season still with something significant to play for.

With 13 still on the injured list, Lam will not be making too many changes, if any.

"There's a few more [injured players] running around on the side of the field which is promising, but at this stage no changes. It could still be crucial, because we don't know when our last game will be, but that's the unknown."


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