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We have Video highlights from the Pro14 clash on Sunday – Colm Reily stared as Connacht hammered a dreadful Zebre.
Sean O’Brien’s try on his first start for two years kick-started a roaring Connacht comeback as Andy Friend’s side waltzed to an emphatic victory over 14-man Zebre in Parma.
Tommaso Boni had given the hosts an early lead before first-half scores from O’Brien, and then two from Alex Wootton, opened up an advantage at the break.
Sammy Arnold, a penalty try and a Tom Daly double extended their lead in the second period and while Marco Manfredi scored for Zebre, Isaiah Papali’i was sent off and Connacht moved up to second in Conference B.
The hosts got off to a flyer at a sun-baked Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi as an early try from outside centre Boni gave them a rapid advantage.
The Italy star received an offload from midfield partner and captain Giulio Bisegni before dotting down under the posts, with No.10 Antonio Rizzi doing the rest from the tee.
That proved the wake-up call Friend’s side needed, however, as six points from the clinical boot of Jack Carty helped narrow the deficit to 7-6.
Lock Gavin Thornbury was proving a giant in the line-out and the Irish side gradually began to find their feet in Italy, with O’Brien’s try turning the tables after 20 minutes.
The experienced flanker, making his maiden start for two years, finished a spell of patient build-up from the visitors and powerfully bundled over to hand Friend’s side the advantage.
Carty’s conversion struck the post but the Connacht comeback was well underway, with Wootton crossing for the first of his two first-half scores just five minutes before the interval.
It was made by the work of Colm Reilly, John Porch and Carty before the wide man recieved possession and augmented Connacht’s lead.
And the winger’s second followed shortly afterwards as he intercepted a Zebre pass to race clear and score on the stroke of half time.
The break came at a good time for Michael Bradley’s side but they could do little to prevent Connacht continuing their resurgence, as Wootton’s fellow wing Arnold went over in the corner for the all-important bonus point.
Ultan Dillane was soon introduced for his 100th Connacht appearance and he was able to celebrate with his team in style as brilliant work from Daly saw him score his side’s fifth.
The hosts then went down to 14 as Papali’i was sent off but they did notch a consolation as Manfredi went over with 20 minutes to go.
But Connacht soon regained their four-score advantage as they were awarded a penalty try after a powerful rolling maul reached the line.
Connacht continued to push for another and it was seven heaven on the stroke of the final whistle as Daly collected Conor Fitzgerald’s kick to go over.
Zebre defended resiliently throughout the second half but the away side held on for a hard-fought victory on the continent to ascend the standings in Conference B.
Play of the day
It could only be Wootton’s first of the day that marked the game’s standout moment.
The speedy Connacht wing capitalised on some fine play from Reilly, Porch and Carty to dot down out wide just before the break and help open up a comfortable half-time advantage.
Man of the match
Connacht scrum-half Reilly was influential throughout, helping set up that brilliant first Wootton try and continually pulling the strings.
Friend’s omnipresent No.9 was at the heart of all his side did as Connacht delivered an imperious display of their credentials and scooped their third win of the Guinness PRO14 season.