Zebre ends Connacht's unbeaten run
PRO14 REPORT: Zebre ended Connacht's three-game unbeaten run in all competitions with a courageous display at the Sportsground.
The hosts were only a point behind at half-time and ramped up the pressure in the second half, but Zebre tries from Gabriele Di Giulio and Andrea De Marchi was enough to secure a rare away win for the Italians.
The game took a while to ignite, with a long stoppage causing a disjointed start after Zebre fullback and former Connacht player Ciaran Gaffney suffered a head injury and had to be stretchered off.
Connacht broke the deadlock after 15 minutes as Craig Ronaldson slotted a penalty, but it was the visitors who crossed the whitewash first.
Di Giulio cut a great line through the Connacht defence with a slicing run, then passed back inside to the supporting Renato Giammarioli to dive under the posts.
Carlo Canna added the extras and Zebre started to gain real momentum, with Di Giulio touching down in the corner after some great off-loads, only for Mike Adamson to disallow the try for a forward pass after consulting TMO.
It didn't take long for Di Guilio to get on the scoresheet officially though, as Serafin Bordoli drew two Connacht defenders to create space for the winger to dive over just seven minutes after the break.
Zebre skipper George Biagi then charged down Kieran Marmion's box kick on Connacht's 22-line and off-loaded to De Marchi for the visitors' third, converted once again by Canna.
Connacht stepped up the intensity seeking to close the gap, but Zebre's defence was outstanding as they threw themselves onto every loose ball, stifling the hosts' attack in order to protect their lead.
Indiscipline from the Italians almost led to a late comeback for Connacht as Maxime Mbanda was sent to the bin, and Darragh Leader took advantage of the extra space on the wing to touch down in the 72nd minute.
The visitors then went down to 13 in the final moments as Rory Parata was also yellow carded, but Connacht ran out of time for a dramatic comeback and Zebre stood firm to secure their first ever triumph at the Sportsground.
Pens: Ronaldson 2
Tries: Giammarioli, Di Giulio, De Marchi
Cons: Canna 2
Yellow cards: Maxime Mbanda (Zebre, 71), Rory Parata (Zebre, 79)
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Sean O'Brien (captain), 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Coulson.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Pita Ahki.
Zebre: 15 Ciaran Gaffney, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Faialaga Afamasaga, 11 Rory Parata, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Johan Meyer, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 James Tucker, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 David Sisi, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Serafin Bordoli, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Lloyd Linton (Scotland), Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Andrew Cymene (Scotland)