Connacht 25 Zebre 16
A tricky first hurdle was negotiated comfortably by Connacht on Saturday evening to kick start the Pat Lam era with a win as they head to Cardiff this coming Friday. It was far from clinical and at times laboured, but this was a day for getting the victory and moving on.
There were plenty of positives to cherry pick, most notably from the second half replacements who collectively sparked some life into the home side and helped seal the win. New signings Jake Heenan and Al Muldowney in particular impressed in their final quarter cameos.
The mood in the camp seems strong and the competition for places has been enhanced after a pre season where 40 players got a taste of the action. Key men are looking sharp and ready for a big campaign with man of the match Robbie Henshaw a towering example in that regard.
Throughout the side, Connacht have players who seem fresh for the new season. Eoin Griffin will be hoping for an injury free campaign and he looked good at 12, especially in defence, Willie Faloon is another who looks in top form at this early stage.
Only one new signing got the starting call and Fionn Carr crowned that selection with a try to mark his return as well as making a first half score for the flying wing Matt Healy, who finished superbly and looks set for a much more prominent role this season.
There were flashes of really good rugby and those aforementioned individual flurries, but there were also long periods of stop-start action where the home side couldn’t enforce their game on a very disappointing Zebre outfit.
The Parma based franchise lost all 22 league games last year and will make that 44 in-a-row if things don’t improve dramatically on this. Last year they came to the Sportgsround twice for Pro 12 and Heineken Cup encounters and had Connacht tied up in knots for long periods, last gasp scores twice saved home blushes.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.