Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to the team that defeated Edinburgh for their trip to Zebre.
Connacht coach Pat Lam has made three changes to the team that beat Edinburgh for their trip to Zebre.
Galway-born Darragh Leader, who made an appearance from the bench last weekend, is named at full-back for his fifth start of the term.
Dan Parks replaces an injured Craig Ronaldson and the former Scottish international is selected in an otherwise all-Irish qualified line-up.
The only change in the pack comes with the introduction of Academy forward Eoghan Masterson who slots into openside flanker to link up with Andrew Browne and John Muldoon in the back-row. This is the second senior cap for 20-year-old Masterson who made his debut at number eight against the Scarlets in November.
Changes on the bench include a call-up for Academy prop Finlay Bealham and veteran fly-half Miah Nikora following his return from injury.
Robbie Henshaw trained with the Ireland squad all week and remains on international duty.
“With injuries from last week, we've been forced to make some frontline changes but again it's a brilliant opportunity for our young Academy players Darragh Leader, Eoghan Masterson and Finlay Bealham to step up and make their mark,” said Lam.
“There is a real mixture of youth and experience in this Connacht side but it's also pleasing that we can name 20 Irish qualified players in a squad of 23.
“There was definitely a sense of relief to get the win against Edinburgh last week but we have set targets for this block of games and we go to Italy with our own expectations on how we play this game and force the outcome.
“Having played Zebre so frequently, and with three wins from three this season, the pressure is on us to deliver again. But we can't underestimate Zebre. They have always threatened us and they will be targeting this game just as much as we are.
“It's up to us now to get the job done this weekend and push up that table.”
Meanwhile for Zebre, Ruggero Trevisan returns at full-back alongside Dion Berryman and Giovanbattista Venditti, with Troy Nathan and Brendon Leonard named as half-backs.
Emiliano Caffini comes in on the blindside in place of Filippo Cristiano while the front five remains unchanged from the side that lost 36-8 to Munster at Musgrave Park last week.
Form: Zebre's only previous home victory came against Treviso on 4th January, whilst they have been defeated in all 18 previous encounters with Irish provinces in all tournaments. Connacht's 11-7 victory over Edinburgh on Saturday ended a three game losing streak in the PRO12. The Irishmen are still without a victory away from home in the tournament this season, but did win twice on their travels in the European Cup, at Zebre and notably at Toulouse. Connacht have won all seven previous contest they have had with Zebre in all tournaments.
Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 Dion Berryman, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Roberto Quartaroli, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Troy Nathan, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk (capt), 6 Emiliano Caffini, 5 George Biagi, 4 Michael van Vuren, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Lorenzo Giovanchelli, 17 Andrea de Marchi 18 Luca Redolfini, 19 Filippo Cazzola, 20 Alberto Saccardo, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Giulio Bisegni, 23 Giulio Toniolatti.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (capt), 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Mick Kearney, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Danie Poolman.
Date: Sunday 23rd February
Venue: Stadio XXV Aprile
Kick-off: 1730 local, 1630 GMT
Referee: Ian Davies (Wal)
Assistant referees: Guiseppe Vivarini, Elia Rizzo (both Ita)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Ita)