PA Sport Staff
Departing flanker Eoghan Masterson scored as Connacht closed out their season with a ragged 22-20 United Rugby Championship 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 Vintcent.
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.