Preview: Connacht v Zebre

Date published: September 7 2013

Connacht have named their side for their first RaboDirect PRO12 clash of the new season, against Zebre at the Sportsground.

Connacht have named their side for their first RaboDirect PRO12 clash of the season against Zebre at the Sportsground.

Michael Swift will lead the hosts into battle, while fellow lock Craig Clarke has been ruled out of his first competitive appearance for his new side after injuring his calf in a warm-up match against Newcastle.

George Naoupu earns his 50th cap for Irish side as he starts at number eight, and will be flanked by John Muldoon and Willie Faloon.

Coach Pat Lam has selected an exciting back-three consisting of Irish international Robbie Henshaw, the club's most prolific try scorer Fionn Carr and Matt Healy.

Despite the already worrying injury list: Denis Buckley, Craig Clarke, Gavin Duffy, Eoin McKeon, Dave McSharry, Miah Nikora, and Kyle Tonetti, Lam is ready for his first PRO12 match in charge.

He told the Connacht website: “Everything we have been doing in pre-season has been geared towards this Saturday and we are ready to go.

“We know the importance of this game. Zebre are a tough side and are hanging out for a win. But we cannot worry about them. The focus is on us as a team, making sure we do exactly what we have been working on, that we have clarity in our jobs.

“We want the four points, we want the win, but the real focus is on us playing as a team. If we do that, the chances of getting the four points will increase.”

Marco Bortalami will captain a Zebre side that had a tough first season in the PRO12, but should be up to the speed of the tournament this year.

The team has a good sprinkling of experience throughout, including several internationals in the pack.

It will be up to these experienced members of the pack such as Bortalami, Bergamasco and Geldenhuys to set a platform that allows new recruit, All Black Brendon Leonard, to get his backs away.

The Italian side will be quietly confident that they can knock over Connacht, as they only lost narrowly to their hosts on a couple occasions last year.

Form: Connacht tripped up in round one of the RaboDirect PRO12 last season with their 9-13 home defeat to Cardiff Blues. The Irishmen won just one of their last five fixtures of last season: 32-24 over Edinburgh at Murrayfield in round 20. Connacht have not been defeated by an Italian side since they visited Aironi on 7 January 2012. Zebre failed to win a game last season with the new Italian franchise struggling to cope with the intensity of the PRO12. However, they have recruited well in the summer and should pose a much stiffer threat this season. The two sides met on four occasions last season (Including two in the European Cup), with Connacht running out victors on all four occasions, although the winning margin in the two most recent encounters was just five and four points respectively.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Danie Poolman, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 John Muldoon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Michael Swift (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran.

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman,14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Gonzalo Garcria, 11 Giulio Toniolatti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Luca Redolfini, 18 Salvatore Perugini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Tommaso Iannone, 23 Matteo Pratichetti.

Date: Saturday, September 7
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 17.00 BST (16.00 GMT)
Referee: Rhys Thomas (WRU)