Heineken Cup Pool 3: Zebre v Connacht match preview
Zebre will be looking for their first Heineken Cup points of the season on Saturday when Connacht come to Italy.
Last Updated: 19/10/13 12:52pm
The hosts suffered a heavy but anticipated defeat away to Toulouse in the opening round, but will be boosted by home advantage against their fellow Pro12 strugglers.
Inspired by new signing Kiwi Brendon Leonard, Zebre recorded their first-ever competitive victory over Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park last month, and look well-placed to claim a few more domestic scalps.
They still await their maiden Heineken Cup triumph, however, and will surely target this fixture as an opportunity to open their European account.
With experience aplenty in the pack, comprising the likes of Mauro Bergamasco and Marco Bortolami, the Italians have the power and grit up front to match that of their visitors.
In the back-row Fijian Samuela Vunisa, has impressed in the Pro12 with his carrying and sleight of hand in attack, notably against Glasgow Warriors, where his influence helped Zebre to two tries - the only two the Scots have conceded in the league this season.
Connacht, meanwhile, were unlucky to miss out on more than a losing bonus point at home to Saracens last Friday, succumbing to an eventual 17-23 defeat.
Another scrum-half, this time young Kieran Marmion, was outstanding in that loss, and his battle with the experienced Leonard will be key to deciding the outcome of this clash.
Elsewhere, the performances of Robbie Henshaw, used in several backline positions already this season, have caught the eye. His running lines, feet and handling skills have been excellent, netting him a man-of-the-match award against the same opponents in the Pro12's opening round.
In Dan Parks, too, Connacht have a weapon capable of gaining territory and points if not perhaps providing real spark and innovation in attack.
These two are likely to battle it out for third place in the pool, with top spot contested by Sarries and Toulouse.
Nevertheless, with Zebre aiming to dislodge another monkey from their back, and Connacht showing signs of improvement, it should be quite a prospect.
Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 Dion Berryman, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 David Odiete, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samu Vunisa, 7 Dries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (capt), 4 Mike Van Vuren, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Andrea de Marchi, 18 Luciano Leibson, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Kameli Ratuvou, 23 Leonardo Sarto.
Connacht: 15 James So'oialo, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu. 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Andrew Browne, 5 Craig Clarke, 4 Michael Swift (capt), 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Sean Henry, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Jason Harris Wright, 17 JP Cooney, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Ally Muldowney, 20 Mata Fifita, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Dave McSharry, 23 Gavin Duffy.