Connacht rugby have recorded their first ever away win in the Heineken Cup thanks to a 10-19 win over competition newcomers Zebra at the Stadio XXV Apriele stadium in the early afternoon kick-off.
John Muldoon’s 63rd minute try was the breakthrough Connacht had been looking for all afternoon after dominating territory and possession for much of the second-half. The Irish province were in real peril of throwing away numerous opportunities to put this game beyond doubt before the Galway man crossed the line to the relief of the Connacht supporters who had travelled in numbers to the city of Parma.
Connacht out-half Dan Parks kicked all other points as Connacht got off to a flyer in Europe’s top rugby competition. The former Scotland international kicked Connacht into a 3-0 lead after four minutes and despite Connacht starting the game the better side it was Zebre who frustrated their visitors using their pack to good use at set-pieces.
However, where Parks was accurate with boot all afternoon, Zebre full-back Daniel Halangahu could only muster one from three attempts at goal inside the first 17 minutes. Parks restored Connacht’s three point lead and, after Marco Bergamasco was binned by referee Leighton Hodges for a dangerous ‘tip tackle’ on Tiernan O’Halloran, Parks made it 9-3 as half-time approached.
In the second period Connacht took the game to Zebra and came close to the Italian line on at least four occasions, but failed to make their numerical advantage count. Handling errors coupled with nervousness were costing the Irish side back-to-back wins in the Heineken Cup.
The pressure was building on Zebre and Parks’ fourth kick on 61 minutes eased the tension on the away side who began to finally settle into the game. Denis Buckley then made a decisive turnover deep in Connacht’s half and scrum-half Kieran Marmion hacked the ball down-field which was chased by Mick McCarthy. The second-row forward had his cross-hairs firmly locked on Luciano Orquera who was forced into a penalty which the quick-thinking Muldoon tapped and ran in under the posts.
Parks converted to leave it 3-19 and that should have been that, but a late rally from the home side unnerved Connacht who began to make simple mistakes. Replacement flanker Filippo Ferranini crossed the whitewash on 72 minutes which was converted but, Connacht had enough experience to see out the final minutes as victors. It wasn’t pretty but in this competition a win is all that matters.