Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Date published: February 19 2016

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made five personnel changes from the XV that beat the Dragons as they face Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

Ireland international Kieran Marmion returns to the backline and links up with AJ MacGinty at half-back. Wing Niyi Adeolokun will play his tenth game this season in a pacey back three with Tiernan O'Halloran and Connacht's top try scorer this season Matt Healy.

Finlay Bealham has also been released from Ireland squad duty this week to take his place in the front-row, having featured in every game for Connacht this season. 25-year-old lock Ben Marshall has returned from the arm injury that has kept him sidelined since November to start in the second-row alongside Aly Muldowney.

Galway-born Eoin McKeon is promoted from the bench to wear the number eight jersey in a back-row with Jake Heenan and captain John Muldoon.

"As we head away on one of the longer away trips in the PRO12 schedule, it was great to have some of our Irish boys back from camp to train with us as well as a few guys coming off the injured list," said Lam.

"We’ve been over to play Zebre a fair few times in the last couple of years between PRO12 and Europe and they’ve always challenged us, particularly up front. There’s no doubt they will be fired up to make amends for their big defeat to Leinster last week. We’ve seen what they can do to teams this season, particulary on their home ground, so we will need to be right on top of our game mentally.

"While it’s extremely tight at the top end of the table, we are solely focused on the quality of our performance tomorrow to get the points on offer in what will be another tough test on the road."

Meanwhile, Zebre are boosted by the return from international duty of tighthead prop Dario Chistolini, number eight Andries Van Schalkwyk, fly-half Kelly Haimona and centre Giulio Bisegni.

The Italians will be desperate to bounce back after last week's heavy 52-0 defeat at Leinster.

Form: Zebre suffered their second biggest Guinness PRO12 defeat on their visit to Leinster on Friday and have only ever beaten an Irish province once before 13-6 when Ulster visited Parma in September 2014. Connacht have the best attack in the Guinness PRO12 having scored 36 tries in their campaign so far. The Irishmen have won their last three matches in all competitions and have also won on their last four visits to Italy. The two sides have met on eleven previous occasions in all tournaments with Connacht winning them all, the most recent four with a try bonus, whilst Zebre have secured just two losing bonus points – both in 2013.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Giulio Toniolatti, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Kayle Van Zyl, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Emiliano Caffini, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: 16 Emiliano Coria, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Federico Ruzza, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Matteo Panunzi, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Tommaso Boni

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ben Marshall, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 George Naoupu, 20 Eoghan Masterson, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Peter Robb, 23 Danie Poolman

Date: Saturday, February 20
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 17:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Gary Conway (Ireland)