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Preview: Zebre v Connact

18th October 2013 11:39

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Luciano Orquera Zebre

Luciano Orquera: At 10 for Zebre

Italian side Zebre are all set to welcome Connacht to Stadio XXV Aprille for their Pool 3 Heineken Cup clash on Saturday.

The hosts suffered a heavy but anticipated defeat away to Toulouse in the opening round, but will be boosted by home advantage against their fellow Pro12 strugglers.

Inspired by new signing Kiwi Brendon Leonard, Zebre recorded their first-ever competitive victory over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park last month, and look well-placed to claim a few more domestic scalps.

They still await their maiden Heineken Cup triumph, however, and will surely target this fixture as an opportunity to open their European account.

With experience aplenty in the pack, comprising the likes of Mauro Bergamasco and Marco Bortolami, the Italians have the power and grit up front to match that of their visitors.

In the back-row Fijian Samuela Vunisa, has impressed in the Pro12 with his carrying and sleight of hand in attack, notably against Glasgow Warriors, where his influence helped Zebre to two tries - the only two the Scots have conceded in the league this season.

Connacht, meanwhile, were unlucky to miss out on more than a losing bonus point at home to Saracens last Friday, succumbing to an eventual 17-23 defeat.

Another scrum-half, this time young Kieran Marmion, was outstanding in that loss, and his battle with the experienced Leonard will be key to deciding the outcome of this clash.

Elsewhere, the performances of Robbie Henshaw, used in several backline positions already this season, have caught the eye. Henshaw's running lines, feet and handling skills have been excellent, netting him a man-of-the-match award against the same opponents in the Pro12's opening round.

In Dan Parks, too, Connacht have a weapon capable of gaining territory and points if not perhaps providing real spark and innovation in attack.

These two are likely to battle it out for third place in the pool, with top spot contested by Sarries and Toulouse.

Nevertheless, with Zebre aiming to dislodge another monkey from their back, and Connacht showing signs of improvement, it should be quite a prospect.

Sean Henry was on target with all 11 of his line-out throws for Connacht against Saracens last weekend. No player in the tournament managed as many with perfect success rate.

Connacht were one of just two clubs (Clermont were the other) to maintain 100% success rates at both the line-out and scrum in Round 1.

Zebre have made six changes, including two positional switches to their side that lost to Toulouse last weekend. Amongst the backs, Dion Berryman shifts from left to right wing where he takes over from Giulio Toniolatti.

David Odiete will now wear the number 11 jersey while Tommaso Iannone, who played at fly-half against Toulouse, replaces Kameli Ratuvou at outsidde centre. Luciano Orquera will now start at pivot.

Up front, there's a new front row with Dario Chistolini, Tommaso D'Apice, Matias Aguero replacing Carlo Fazzari, Davide Giazzon, Salvatore Perugini.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam commented on the team selection and the upcoming game: "Losing John Muldoon to injury, along with Eon McKeon and Willie Faloon, was a huge blow to our back row. But Andrew Browne comes in as a straight replacement at 6 and has plenty of experience in that position.

"It's great to welcome back Ronan Loughney as well as Jason Harris-Wright to the bench. But with the performance of last week's front row against Saracens, they deserve another opportunity to back it up again this week.

"Matt Healy comes back in after injury and we Iook forward to seeing him continue the form he showed in the opening weeks of the season.

"James So'oialo starts in his preferred international position of 15 which gives Gavin Duffy a well-deserved break and a chance to make an impact from the bench. And Craig Ronaldson gets a second start at inside centre after such an encouraging performance against Saracens.

"Finally, after such a long time out, it's great to have Dave McSharry back match fit and his experience will be vital off the bench.

"Against Zebre we're under no illusions of the challenge we face. This is a game that they are desperate to win in their own back yard and they have openly targeted this one. But, after a good week's training, it's another challenge we look forward to facing head on."

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 Dion Berryman, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 David Odiete, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samu Vunisa, 7 Dries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (capt), 4 Mike Van Vuren, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Andrea de Marchi, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Kameli Ratuvou, 23 Leonardo Sarto.

Connacht: 15 James So'oialo, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu. 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Craig Clarke, 4 Michael Swift (capt), 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris Wright, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Ally Muldowney, 20 Mata Fifita, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Dave McSharry, 23 Gavin Duffy,

Date: Saturday, 19 October
Venue: Stadio XXV Aprile
Kick-off: 14:35 local (13:45 BST/12:35GMT)
Referee: Ian Davies

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