THE reality hit home for Connacht on Saturday evening as a second successive defeat on the road underlined the dog fight that now lies ahead in the battle for Champions Cup rugby qualification next season. This has been an unforgiving PRO14 campaign to date, but this defeat might sting the most as Connacht actually led with just 12 minutes to go only to be out fought by a sharper and more physical Zebre side.
Under Michael Bradley, Zebre have developed a hard edge and level of commitment that is noticeably improved. Connacht are struggling against sides in the lower echelons this season underlining a sense that they’ve taken a step back, but Saturday also showcased how the Italian franchises are improving in the basics.
That new reality combined with a strong display from out half Carlo Canna helped the Parma based side to a key win against Conference A opponents. Bradley’s side, along with the Ospreys, Cardiff and Connacht are now in a four way tussle for fourth spot. That will be enough to take one of the three automatic Champions Cup places from the conference as the Cheetahs are ineligible for European competition.
Connacht had the better of the opening quarter in terms of possession and territory but, as has been the case all season, converting the advantage into scores was the big issue. Canna scored first for the host from close range after Connacht were caught offside scrambling in desperation to halt a strong home attack.
The better first half try scoring chances came from the hosts with Giovanbattista Venditti failing to find Guilio Bisegni with an inside pass after winning the race to Canna’s crossfield kick at one stage. That was the first of two chances for Venditti, the second saw him held up over the line in the corner. By half time, Canna had added another penalty as Eoaghan Masterson trudged to the sin bin but 6-0 was scant reward for the host’s efforts.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune