Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Date published: September 16 2016

Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made six changes to his starting line-up for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Zebra in Parma.

Bundee Aki and Eoin Griffin swap positions in midfield while 22-year-old Cian Kelleher starts on the wing after making his Connacht debut at full-back in Round One. Caolin Blade is also reintroduced at scrum-half.

Up front, Denis Buckley returns from injury at loose headprop while JP Cooney starts at tighthead in the absence of Finlay Bealham through illness this week. There is a new second row partnership of Lewis Stevenson and Andrew Browne.

Irish internationals Ultan Dillane, Kieran Marmion and Matt Healy are all included among the replacements while prop Conor Carey is in line to make his Connacht debutn.

Commenting on the upcoming game, Lam said: "Zebre are a team we know well having played them 12 times in the past four seasons. Our good record against them is due the respect we give them in our preparation and this week has been no different. 

"With this being their first game home game of the season, we understand the tough challenge ahead of us on Saturday.

"Despite the injuries and changes in personnel, our focus has been on continued improvement throughout our game and our roles. We’re looking forward to taking another step up in our performance tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Zebre head coach Gianluca Guidi has made three changes to his run-on side.

In the backline, Edoardo Padovani comes in at full-back for New Zealand Sevens international Kurt Baker while Venditti Giovanbattista starts on the left wing.

Giovanbattista's inclusion sees Gabriele Di Giulio shifting to the right wing where he replaces Lloyd Greef.

The final change to the Italian outfit's line-up sees Federico Ruzza taking over from Andries van Schalkwyk at number eight.

Zebre's starting line-up has a full roster of Italian players which includes 14 internationals with only Ruzza who hasn't been capped at Test level for the Azzurri.

Form: Zebre are the only side in the PRO12 yet to have played at home this season. Zebre won their most recent game in Parma 47-22 against Dragons in Round 22 last season but have not won successive matches at the venue since last October. The reigning PRO12 Champions, Connacht, have begun the defence of their title with a pair of home defeats, to Glasgow Warriors and Ospreys. Connacht have not won away from home since beating Edinburgh at Murrayfield in early March whilst their only defeat in Italy since October 2013 came on their most recent visit to Treviso in April. Connacht have a perfect played 12, won 12 record against Zebre in all competitions.  

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Venditti Giovanbattista, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea De Marchi 
Replacements: 16 D'Apice Tommaso, 17 Postiglioni Bruno, 18 Guillermo Roan/Dario Chistolini, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Tommaso Castello, 23 Kayle Van Zyl

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 JP Cooney, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley 
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rory Moloney, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Matt Healy

Date: Saturday, September 17
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 18:05 local (17:05 BST, 16:05 GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones (Wales), Riccardo Angelucci (Italy)