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Connacht boost play-off bid

MATCH REPORT: Academy graduate Matthew Devine scored a brace of tries as Connacht eased to a 54-16 United Rugby Championship victory over Zebre Parma at The Sportsground.

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The 22-year-old scrumhalf marked his maiden start with two first-half tries, as Pete Wilkins’ side moved into a 21-11 lead by half-time.

Geronimo Prisciantelli and Simon Gesi both split the posts to sandwich Jacopo Trulla’s 20th-minute try, but JJ Hanrahan created and converted Niall Murray’s score out wide.

Tom Farrell, Sean O’Brien, Bundee Aki and Hanrahan – who finished with 17 points – boosted Connacht’s try haul to seven, before a 76th-minute penalty try for an illegally collapsed maul.

Replacement Enrico Lucchin’s breakaway try was the highlight of Zebre’s second half, which petered out with yellow cards for Danilo Fischetti and Andrea Zambonin.

Despite having centre Fetuli Paea sin binned for a high tackle on John Porch, Zebre took a 13th-minute lead through a Prisciantelli drop goal.

Connacht were first to cross the whitewash though, as Devine sniped over from a tap penalty – despite tackles from Gonzalo Garcia and Zambonin. Hanrahan converted from the right.

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Nonetheless, Shane Jennings failed to deal with a Prisciantelli grubber kick, allowing Trulla to nudge the ball on and touch down.

Again it was Devine who provided the spark for the hosts, breaking from a ruck 40 metres out to dart over near the posts.

A Gesi penalty closed the gap to 14-11, but Hanrahan’s well-weighted cross-field kick bounced up invitingly for Murray to raid over from the left.

In the 46th minute, Andrew Smith sliced through and although his pass was almost intercepted by Prisciantelli, it fell for Farrell to run in behind the posts.

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Hanrahan converted and it was his midfield run that led to O’Brien’s 52nd-minute touchdown. Wing Smith was tackled short, but the ball was retained for the young No.8 to burrow over.

Zebre went close through Iacopo Bianchi, who was held up, before Prisciantelli broke onto Thomas Dominguez’s chip kick and neatly sent Lucchin over from 30 metres out.

That good work was undone by Fischetti’s yellow for a late, no-arms tackle, which led to Aki powering over from a maul. Slick hands from replacement Caolin Blade and Farrell released Hanrahan to grab his try.

On a night when Finlay Bealham made his 200th Connacht appearance, their late penalty try landed Zambonin in the bin. The hosts now sit ninth in the table, level on 39 points with eighth-placed Edinburgh.

Player of the Match
There was no looking past Ballinasloe native Matthew Devine for the  URC player-of-the-match medal.

He took his two tries very well, scoring at stages when Connacht really needed to build some momentum against the resilient Italians.

Play of the match
Devine was determined to make an impact in the sunny conditions and his second try was a quality score that produced the biggest cheer of the night.

He grasped his opportunity on Zebre’s 10-metre line, fending off Muhamed Hasa and using a sidestep and burst of pace to give him just enough space to score, despite the covering Prisciantelli and Lorenzo Pani.

The scorers:

For Connacht:
Tries: Devine 2, Murray, Farrell, O’Brien, Aki, Hanrahan, Penalty try
Cons: Hanrahan 6

For Zebre:
Tries: Trulla, Lucchin
Pens: Gesi
Drop-goal: Prisciantelli

Teams

Connacht: 15 Shane Jennings, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Matthew Devine, 8 Seán O’Brien, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Joe Joyce, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan (captain), 1 Jordan Dugga.
Replacements: 16 Tadgh McElroy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Oisín Dowling, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Cathal Forde, 23 Paul Boyle.

Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Scott Gregory, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Gonzalo Garcia, 8 Giovanni Licata (captain), 7 Davide Ruggeri, 6 Guido Volpi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Leonard Krumov, 3 Juan Pitinari, 2 Giampietro Ribaldi, 1 Muhamed Hasa.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso Di Bartolomeo, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Matteo Canali, 20 Iacopo Bianchi, 21 Thomas Dominguez, 22 Franco Smith Jr, 23 Enrico Lucchin.

Referee: Aimee Barrett- Theron (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland) and Tomas O’Sullivan (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Brett (Scotland)

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