Canna's great parting gift for Connacht
MATCH REPORT: Departing flank Eoghan Canna scored as Connacht closed out their United Rugby Championship season with a 22-20 bonus-point win over Zebre Parma at the Sportsground.
Tries from Kieran Marmion, Niall Murray and Masterson gave Connacht a 17-8 half-time lead, the bottom-placed Italians rallying with a late score from Lorenzo Pani.
John Porch bagged the hosts’ bonus point in the 48th minute, but closing efforts from Zebre replacement Matteo Nocera and Enrico Lucchin made for a tighter-than-expected finish.
Carlo Canna kicked Zebre into a third-minute lead, rewarding full-back Pani’s chase down of his own kick and Asaeli Tuivuaka’s follow-up at the breakdown.
Connacht’s Tom Daly broke through the middle in response and, with Zebre caught for numbers on the left, Marmion reached over from a sixth-minute ruck.
The hosts doubled their tally on the quarter-hour mark, Cian Prendergast beating a defender and laying off for lock Murray to go over in the left corner.
The penalties were beginning to rack up against Zebre, who fell 17-3 behind after Masterson was driven over in the 25th minute and Jack Carty converted.
Knock-ons prevented Connacht from extending their lead, while Tuivuaka’s thumping tackle halted Marmion following a promising break from Prendergast.
Indeed, Zebre finished the first half with a well-worked five-pointer from the pacy Pani, who handed off Tom Farrell to score.
Lucchin’s turnover penalty thwarted Connacht on the restart, but lovely hands from Carty, Alex Wootton and Oran McNulty freed up Porch to dash past Jacopo Trulla and briefly get the scoreboard moving again.
Unfortunately the game then entered a rather listless spell, with Zebre unable to profit from a decent scrum platform and Connacht giving the likes of Ultan Dillane and Sam Arnold a chance to sign off in the green jersey.
A bulldozing charge from Tuivuaka got the visitors’ attack firing. Nocera duly burrowed over in the 67th minute with timely support from fellow replacement Ross Vincent.
Zebre were much the better team down the final stretch, deservedly scoring again when impressive centre Lucchin took advantage of three missed tackles to go over out wide. Canna converted but Connacht held on.
Player of the match
Zebre had some strong performances from the likes of Lucchin and captain David Sisi.
The first half was when Connacht did most of the damage and Ireland prospect Prendergast stood out, his workmanlike display earning him the URC Player of the Match honour.
Play of the match
It was certainly a thing of beauty from a forward’s point of view as Masterson plunged over for a fitting try.
After nine years with the Irish province, the Portlaoise man bowed out with a well-taken score from a well-executed line-out maul.
Tries: Marmion, Murray, Masterson, Porch
Tries: Pani, Nocera, Lucchin
Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Alex Wootton, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Cian Prendergast, 7 Seán Masterson, 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Niall Murray, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Abraham Papali’i, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Asaeli Tuivuaka, 13 Franco Smith Jr, 12 Enrico Lucchin, 11 Jacopo Trulla, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taina Fox-Matamua, 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Luca Andreani, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 David Sisi (captain), 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Giampietro Ribaldi, 17 Paolo Buonfiglio, 18 Matteo Nocera, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Ross Vincent, 21 Nicolò Casilio, 22 Alessandro Fusco, 23 Junior Laloifi.
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: Dan Carson (Ireland), Keane Davison (Ireland)
TMO: Colin Stanley (Ireland)
* Reporting by @URCOfficial