Preview: Connacht v Zebre

Date published: March 2 2017

The Connacht team to face Zebre at the Sportsground on Friday has been named. 

The starting XV features just three players that started in Italy in the last round four days ago – Danie Poolman, Niyi Adeolokun and Bundee Aki.

Poolman, who started on the wing against Treviso on Sunday shifts to full-back for the fixture.

24-year-old fly-half Steve Crosbie will make his Connacht debut, starting in a new half-back partnership with John Cooney. Tom Farrell and Stacey Ili come in to complete the youthful backline.

There are wholesale changes to the pack and Tom McCartney is handed the captaincy while John Muldoon, who has started all but one game this season, takes a place on the bench. Ronan Loughney and Dominic Robertson-McCoy pack down in the front row with Lewis Stevenson and Andrew Browne – who returns for the first time this year – making up the second-row partnership.

After 12 months away from the game to overcome a serious knee injury, Eoghan Masterson makes his return to professional rugby tomorrow.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, head coach Pat Lam said: “With a five-day turnaround on the back of our trip to Italy, we had always planned to make changes to the side. This will be a great opportunity for others in the squad to show what they can do.

“I’m delighted to see Eoghan (Masterson) and Andrew (Browne) make their return to match action at home tomorrow night. The team are buzzing for them and we’re really looking forward to being back at the Sportsground.

“Having faced Zebre three times already this season, we know that we can expect a tough, physical challenge. It’s vital that we give them the respect they deserve through our preparation and execution of our own game plan.”

Meanwhile, Zebre left Parma this morning, heading to Ireland to face the 17th round of the competition scheduled at the Sportsground in Galway.

With the Six Nations on a break this week the Zebre coaching staff has been able to call on four internationals in centre Tommaso Boni, prop Dario Chistolini, number eight Federico Ruzza and hooker Tommaso D’Apice.

There are four changes to the starting line-up with Tommaso Castello into the 12 jersey.

The other changes are in the forward pack with Chistolini at tighthead prop, the experienced Ross Geldenhuys in the second row and Matteo Cornelli at flank.

Form: Connacht have won their last three matches since their 10-19 reversal in Toulouse in round 6 of the European Champions Cup. Connacht’s only loss in their last nine matches at the Sportsground in all tournaments was to Munster in the Guinness PRO12 on 31 December. Zebre have not won since beating Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in the PRO12 at the end of October. The Italians’ only previous victory over an Irish province was when they beat Ulster in Parma in September 2014. The two sides have met on 14 previous occasions in all tournaments (not including the abandoned the Guinness PRO12 round 3 game), with Connacht winning them all. The only Italian side to have beaten Connacht in Galway was Treviso in December 2011.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Danie Poolman, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Steve Crosbie, 9 John Cooney, 8 Eoghan Masterson, 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 2 Tom McCartney (c), 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Gideon Koegelenberg, 6 Matteo Cornelli, 5 Valerio Bernabò (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Matteo Archetti, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Matteo Pratichetti, 23 Guillermo Roan

Date: Friday, March 2
Venue: Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Ken Imbusch (Ireland)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)

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