Ili hat-trick puts Connacht on top
EUROPEAN CUP REPORT: Stacey Ili scored a hat-trick as Connacht romped to their biggest win in the European Champions Cup.
The eight-try demolition of 14-man Zebre in Sunday put the Irish province at the top of Pool Two.
Wing Ili crossed three times in an eventful clash at Stadio Lanfranchi that also saw two yellow cards and a red, in the first half, for Zebre hooker Oliviero Fabiani.
Connacht fullback Cian Kelleher also crossed twice in the second half as the Pro12 champions smashed their previous record score - also against Zebre - in this tournament.
It was a world away from Connacht's visit to Parma last month when they trailed the home side at half-time when a torrential downpour saw the game abandoned. This time Pat Lam's side made their intentions clear from the opening exchanges though were helped by Italian mistakes.
Zebre saw centre Tommaso Boni withdraw before kick-off and it was a mistake in midfield under their own posts that put Connacht on the front foot. Craig Ronaldson thought he was over but the video official ruled a double movement.
The pressure told in the 10th minute when Ili raced onto Jack Carty's kick to touch down in the corner and Ronaldson converted. Carty then scored himself but it was courtesy of Peter Robb's bone-crunching tackle on Carlo Canna that dislodged the ball and the fly-half galloped in from the half-way line.
Sean O'Brien was sin-binned for knocking the ball out of Marcello Violi's hands on 29 minutes, but worse was to come for Zebre just seconds later when hooker Fabiani was dismissed by French referee Mathieu Raynal for biting Connacht lock Quinn Roux.
Ili grabbed his second try just a minute into the second half and Zebre were down to 13 men when centre Tommy Castello was ruled to have deliberately infringed at a ruck.
Ili saw a third try ruled out for a forward pass but Connacht still made their advantage count with three tries in a remarkable six-minute blitz. The forwards applied enough pressure to earn a penalty try, Kelleher skipped over for this first and prop Conor Carey touched down between 51 and 55 minutes.
Zebre at least avoided a whitewash when Tommason D'Apice dived over from a yard out only for Kelleher and Ili to complete the rout.
Tries:Carty, Ili 3, Carey, Kelleher 2
Cons: Ronaldson 5, O’Leary
Yellow cards: Sean O'Brien (Connacht, 28 - cynical foul, slapping the ball out of an opponent's hand), Tommy Castello (Zebre, 48 - cynical foul, killing the ball at a ruck)
Red card: Oliviero Fabiani (Zebre, 29 - foul play, biting)
Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giambattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Dries van Schalkwyk, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 George Biagi, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Josh Furno, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommy Castello, 23 Giovanni D’Onofrio.
Connacht: 15 Cian Kelleher, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Peter Robb, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 JP Cooney.
Replacements: 16 David Heffernan, 17 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Bundee Aki.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Tual Trainini (France), Thomas Déjean)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)