Connacht v Zebre: 3 key battles to decide the victor at the Sportsground

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Connacht v Zebre: 3 key battles to decide the victor at the Sportsground
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Connacht v Zebre: 3 key battles to decide the victor at the Sportsground

Connacht welcome zebre to Galway tomorrow for their round five Pool 3 clash at the Sportsground (kick-off 15.40).

Pat Lam says the western province are very much alive in the competition, and if they can force a winning bonus point out of this game then they will certainly be a live piece on the board next weekend.

Before they get too ahead of themselves though, it’s worth remembering that Zebre have just overtaken Connacht in the Pro12 and the Irish province now sit bottom.

Here are three head-to-heads that could be crucial if Connacht are to keep up their European interest this season.

For all of Lam’s attacking ambition, it’s winter in Galway so little can planned without first setting the set-piece up right.

Sean Henry comes back into the side for the first time since featuring in the win over Toulouse. To keep that winning run going, he will have to cope without the dominant presence of Craig Clarke at the line-out while aiding and abetting the efforts of Nathan White and Brett Wilkinson at scrum time.

Jake Heenan v Dries van Schalkwyk

Another young man returning from injury is Jake Heenan. The openside’s natural ability to influence the breakdown has been greatly missed in the last fortnight, but back on home turf tomorrow he will be asked to hit the ground running.

Generating quick ball is essential to the gameplan preferred by Lam and if Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are to influence the game, Heenan must first keep his 29-year-old South African opposite number off the ball.

Jack Carty v Luciano Orquera

Last weekend was Carty’s first chance to impress from the start in the Connacht shirt, and he did.

While Leinster’s back row always seems to have a decent hold on the game, his aggressive running threat gave the blue defence plenty to second guess and they often found themselves having to tackle behind their own gain-line.

If Carty can deliver a repeat performance – at least for the hour before Dan Parks is summoned – then he will be forcing tough decisions from a much weaker defence.

Connacht: D Leader, F Carr, R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion: B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White, M Kearney, A Browne; J Muldoon (capt) J Heenan, E McKeon.

Replacements: J Harris-Wright, D Buckley, R Ah You, M Swift, G Naoupu, P O’Donohoe, D Parks, G Duffy.

Zebre: G Palazzani, G Toniolatti , K Ratuvou, G Garcia, D Berryman, L Orquera, A Chillon: M Aguero, D Giazzon, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi, F Ferrarini, D van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa,

Replacements: T D’Apice , A de Marchi, D Ryan, M Bortolami, N Cattina, R Quartaroli, R Trevisan, D Odiete.

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