European Champions Cup: Connacht 66-21 Zebre

John Cooney was among Connacht's try scorers at the Sportsground
John Cooney impressed in his unaccustomed fly-half role for Connacht
European Champions Cup: Pool Two
Connacht (40) 66
Tries: Healy 2, Cooney, O'Halloran 2, Bealham, Marmion 2, Ronaldson, Blade Cons: Cooney 8
Zebre (14) 21
Tries: Meyer, Ruzza, Bellini Cons: Canna 3

Connacht stayed on course for a European Champions Cup quarter-finals spot as they notched a 10-try win over a shambolic Zebre side in Galway.

Tiernan O'Halloran, Kieran Marmion and Matt Healy scored two tries with John Cooney, Finlay Bealham, Craig Ronaldson and Caolin Blade also touching down.

The home team wobbled early on as tries from Johan Meyer and Federico Ruzza helped Zebre take a 14-7 lead.

But Connacht hit 33 unanswered points before the break as Zebre imploded.

The visitors played the closing eight minutes of the first half with 13 men after Lloyd Greeff and prop Pietro Ceccarelli had both been sin-binned.

Impressive scrum-half Marmion and fit-again Ronaldson exploited Connacht's two-man advantage to run in ridiculously easy tries, although the bonus point had already been secured before that.

With Wasps edging out Toulouse 17-14 in Saturday's other Pool Two game, Connacht now lead the table by one point and an away win over the French giants next Sunday will guarantee Pat Lam's team a quarter-final spot.

Kieran Marmion runs in Connacht's ninth try despite Lloyd Greeff's efforts
Another all-action display from Kieran Marmion included two tries

Zebre suffer second Irish mauling in a week

The result was Zebre's second humiliation in a week at Irish hands after their 70-6 Pro12 hammering by Leinster last weekend.

Following that game, Zebre president Stefano Pagliarini said that the franchise needed an injection of 1m Euro to stay afloat for the remainder of this season and Saturday's result will do little to improve the club's morale.

After makeshift fly-half John Cooney's superb pass helped set up an immediate Connacht try for wing Healy, the home side were punished for some wrong option-taking and sloppy handling in their own 22 which allowed back rowers Meyer and Ruzza to poach tries.

However, Connacht were on terms at 14-14 by the 19th minute after Marmion's slick pass to Sean O'Brien helped set up a try for Cooney.

Within nine minutes, Connacht's bonus point was secure as Bealham's finished off a well-constructed maul for the fourth try after impressive Cooney's clever grubber kick had fallen perfectly for Ireland full-back O'Halloran moments earlier.

As Zebre totally lost their discipline, Marmion and Ronaldson ran in further Connacht tries before the break after Greeff's high tackle on Niyi Adeolokun and Ceccarelli's blatant offside had reduced the visitors to 13 players.

Ireland backs Healy and O'Halloran exploited yet more woeful defending down Zebre's right flank to score further tries within three minutes of the restart.

With Lam opting to make a series of changes, Connacht's fluency flagged somewhat in the closing half hour as they had to be content with further scores from Marmion and his scrum-half replacement Caolin Blade.

In between those scores, centre Mattia Bellini notched a Zebre try but that didn't mask another chastening day for the Italian franchise.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Parata, C Ronaldson, M Healy, J Cooney, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, L Stevenson, J Cannon, S O'Brien, E McKeon, J Muldoon (captain)

Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, J Andress, J Connolly, N Dawai, C Blade, T Farrell, D Poolman.

Zebre: K Baker; L Greeff, E Padovani, M Bellini, G Palazzani; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, C Festuccia, P Ceccarelli, G Koegelenberg, V Bernabo, M Mbanda, J Meyer, F Ruzza

Replacements: O Fabiani, A de Marchi, D Chistolini, J Furno, G Biagi, C Engelbrecht, D Minnie, S Bordoli

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