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Heineken Cup Pool 3: Connacht dismantle Zebre but fail to earn bonus
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Connacht reignited their hopes of qualifying from Heineken Cup Pool Three following a 33-6 victory over Zebre, however the Irish province missed out on a winning bonus point.
George Naoupu and Mata Fifita scored a try in each half for Connacht, while Dan Parks did the rest, registering 23 points with his trusty right boot.
For Zebre, Luciano Orquera kicked all their points, but they failed to register so much as a losing bonus point on yet another failed adventure for the Italians.
Connacht led from start to finish, a second minute penalty by Parks setting them on their way against the only side they had previously beaten this season.
Zebre came into the game with ambitions of their own, confident of finally securing their first win in European competition.
However, for all their early endeavour, they did not quite have the tools to pick open a stubborn Connacht defence, and relied exclusively on Orquera for points.
The Italian international traded penalties with Parks as both teams continued to feel their way into the game, Connacht being asked to defend more than they might have reckoned on.
James So'oialo, Robbie Henshaw and Danie Poolman were all asked to make try-saving interventions as the home side laid siege to the visitors' line inside the opening quarter.
In attack, Connacht had opportunities of their own. Henshaw at outside centre was an inspiration every time he touched the ball, while scrum-half Kieran Marmion was also lively.
At times they were perhaps guilty of over-complicating things, but their persistence eventually paid off on the half hour when big back rower Naoupu touched down for the opening try following some desperately soft defending from Zebre in the lineout.
Standing at two, the Kiwi barely had to get off the ground as Sean Henry's dart flew straight into his hands and he collapsed over the line.
Parks converted and then added two quick-fire penalties to help Connacht go down the tunnel with a useful 19-3 lead.
Into the second half and the visitors were forced to defend for long periods as Zebre tried to launch a comeback.
As in the opening 40 minutes, however, the Italians were unable to convert pressure into tries, with Orquera forced to kick penalties rather than conversions.
He split the posts on 48 minutes to reduce the deficit, but it was a short reprieve for Zebre.
Connacht started to play a more territorial-based game and waited for the penalties to come. And when they did, former Scotland out-half Parks was there on each to occasion to push his side further ahead, kicking three penalties in quick succession to leave Connacht coasting at 28-6.
With the bit between their teeth, the westerners then went in search of tries, and got their second from another line-out set piece, replacement Fifita this time the beneficiary.
With more time they might have added a couple more, but in the end they left content that they had done the job they came to do.
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|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Sunday 25th January|
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Munster 65 - 10 Sale Sharks|
|Clermont Auvergne 18 - 6 Saracens|
|Bath 20 - 15 Glasgow|
|Montpellier 27 - 26 Toulouse|
|Saturday 24th January|
|Scarlets 3 - 26 Toulon|
|Ulster 26 - 7 Leicester|
|Northampton 8 - 32 Racing Metro 92|
|Benetton Treviso 23 - 20 Ospreys|
|Castres 19 - 47 Harlequins|
|Wasps 20 - 20 Leinster|
|Sunday 18th January|
|Ospreys 9 - 20 Northampton|
|Racing Metro 92 53 - 7 Benetton Treviso|
|Toulouse 18 - 35 Bath|
|Glasgow 21 - 10 Montpellier|
|Saturday 17th January|
|Harlequins 3 - 23 Wasps|
|Sale Sharks 13 - 22 Clermont Auvergne|
|Leinster 50 - 8 Castres|
|Toulon 60 - 22 Ulster|
|Saracens 33 - 10 Munster|
|Friday 16th January|
|Leicester 40 - 23 Scarlets|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com