Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Date published: October 21 2016

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Connacht head coach Pat Lam has rung the changes to his starting line-up for Sunday's Champions Cup clash with Zebre in Parma.

In all, Lam has made seven changes to the side that defeated Toulouse six days ago.

In the injury-enforced absence of Tiernan O'Halloran, Cian Kelleher starts at full-back for the second time this season. New signing Stacey Ili is handed his first start having made two recent appearances from the bench.

Returning from injury, Peter Robb joins up with Craig Ronaldson in midfield while Ireland international Kieran Marmion – an influential second half replacement against Toulouse – will don the number nine shirt.

Hooker Shane Delahunt starts for the first time this season and packs down in the front row with the incoming JP Cooney and Finlay Bealham who shifts over to the tighthead side.

Quinn Roux is once again named to start in the second row having had to withdraw late before the game last weekend. The province's back row is also changed with blindside flanker Sean O'Brien earning his first start of the current campaign.

Following his return from injury, the 21-year-old O'Brien, a former Ireland U20 captain, turned in an impressive cameo performance from the bench against Toulouse.

Commenting on the team selection, Lam said: "The best thing about our improved performances individually and collectively as a team is that it has brought back good competition for places in the squad. With that in mind, and obviously some niggles and injuries, we've made some changes for our trip to Italy.

"With Zebre's target of winning their first Champions Cup game, we are fully expecting to see the real Zebre front up at home. Our whole week has been focused on our continued improvement in team performance which will give us the best chance to face their challenge head on."

Meanwhile, Zebre have made 10 alterations to their run-on side which suffered an 82-14 defeat at Wasps in their opener last weekend.

In the back-line, Carlo Canna comes into the side at fly-half with Edoardo Padovani, who wore the number 10 jersey against Wasps, moving to full-back where he replaces Kyle van Zyl.

In midfield, Giulio Bisegni replaces Matteo Pratichetti while  Marcello Violi is preferred to Guglielmo Palazzani at scrum-half.

In the forwards, there's a brand new front row with Pietro Ceccarelli, Andrea Lovotti and Oliviero Fabiani replacing Dario Chistolini, Bruno Postiglioni and Carlo Festuccia as the starting props and hooker respectively while Quintin Geldenhuys comes in for Josh Furno in the second row.

The final changes are in the back-row where Johan Meyer and Maxime Mbanda take over from Derick Minnie and Jacopo Sarto as the starting flankers.

Form: This will be the fifth meeting between the clubs in Europe with Connacht winning each of the previous four. Zebre have been restricted to 14 points or fewer in each of their six home games in the Champions Cup, losing each of those matches. Connacht won two of their three away games the last time they were in the Champions Cup, beating Zebre and Toulouse in 2013/14. Zebre missed 45 tackles during the defeat by Wasps in Round 1, managing a tackle completion rate of just 75%. Connacht's tally of 18 clean breaks against Toulouse was the most in Round 1.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Gabriele Di Giulio, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giambattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Dries van Schalkwyk, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 George Biagi, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Guillermo Roan, 19 Josh Furno, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommy Castello, 23 Giovanni D'Onofrio

Connacht: 15 Cian Kelleher, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Peter Robb, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Stacey Ili, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 JP Cooney
Replacements: 16 David Heffernan, 17 Dominic Robertson McCoy, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Bundee Aki

Date: Sunday, October 23
Venue: Stadio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT) 
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Tual Trainini (France), Thomas Déjean)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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