Preview: Zebre v Connacht

Date published: May 8 2015

Connacht will aim to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive as they travel to Zebre in the Pro12 this weekend.

Currently eighth, Connacht need to win their two remaining games, while one success would top their best effort in the Pro12.

Head Coach Pat Lam has made one change to the starting XV from the last round with scrum-half John Cooney is named to start in an otherwise unchanged backline in what will be his 13th appearance of the season.

Zebre are still chasing down the Italian Champions Cup spot for next season as they sit just three points behind their closest rivals Benetton Treviso.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Pat Lam said: "After a series of good performances from the bench, it’s great to be able to give John (Cooney) a start tomorrow.

"At this late stage of the season, it’s not unusual for us to be light in terms of players available. We’ve always had to rely on our Academy players to step up when needed and with an eye to the future, young Conor (McKeon) will get a well-deserved chance to do that this weekend." 

It will be an emotional afternoon for Zebre, with captain Mauro Bergamasco making his final home appearance for the side.

The veteran Italian international will retire from club rugby at the end of the current campaign but leads the side in Parma as they try to catch Treviso in the race for the Italian Champions Cup spot.

Brendon Leonard, who is also off at the end of the season, will link up with Luciano Orquera in the half-backs for Victor Jimenez's side.

Form: Zebre are still chasing down the Italian European Champions Cup spot for next season but their only victory since round 9 came at home to Newport Gwent Dragons on 1st March. In 27 previous fixtures against Irish provinces in all tournaments the Italians have won just once: at home to Ulster in September 2014. Connacht have lost their last five matches in all tournaments since beating Treviso in Galway 53-5 on 1st March. Connacht have won their last seven matches against Italian opponents in all competitions. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions in all competitions with Connacht being victorious every time – the last two with a try bonus.

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Michele Visentin, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Mauro Bergamasco (c), 6 Filippo Cristiano, 5 Valerio Bernabò, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Matias Aguero
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Luca Redolfini, 19 Andrei Mahu, 20 Jacopo Sarto, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Alberto Chillon, 23 Mirco Bergamasco

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 John Cooney, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley 
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Conor McKeon, 23 Darragh Leader

Date: Saturday, May 9
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Filippo Bertelli (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)