RaboDirect Pro12: Connacht edge hard-fought contest with Zebre
Last Updated: 01/03/13 10:22pm
Dan Parks: Kicked a late drop goal and penalty for Connacht
Connacht pipped Zebre to a 23-19 victory as Dan Parks kicked a last-gasp drop goal and penalty in the RaboDirect PRO12 encounter at the Sportsground on Friday night.
Eoin McKeon's first try for the province had Connacht ahead within two minutes, and Gavin Duffy also touched down for a 14-3 lead. But only a point separated the sides at the break, with Paolo Buso kicking his second penalty and converting Leonardo Sarto's 31st-minute try.
Parks and Buso swapped penalties before a 71st-minute penalty from Gonzalo Garcia had the Italians within touching distance of their first victory but Connacht showed their resilience as Parks' right boot ensured they finished on top at the end of a competitive encounter.
Eric Elwood's men zoomed into an early lead against the bottom side when Brian Murphy put Duffy charging through a gap and he had the ideal back up from number eight McKeon, who swept past Sarto's attempted tackle for a textbook try, with Parks adding the conversion.
Buso missed a long range penalty but the Zebre out-half was on target with his second attempt from the 10-metre line, punishing Willie Faloon for a ruck infringement.
Connacht hit back within four minutes, with Duffy stepping inside Sinoti Sinoti to race past a flat-footed Alberto Benettin for a clinical score. Parks converted again from close range for a 14-3 scoreline.
Nathan White was penalised for a binding offence in the scrum and Buso kicked the three points from close in, then the Italians opened their try account on the half hour, with Sinoti breaking brilliantly from the visitors' 10-metre line and sending the supporting Sarto speeding away and in under the posts. Buso's successful conversion cut the gap to a single point.
Parks split the posts with a penalty seven minutes into the second period, although the province had to readjust after Robbie Henshaw was injured when bringing down the onrushing Sinoti, with Duffy switching to full-back and Fetu'u Vainikolo brought on out wide.
Zebre bit back on the hour when Buso was on target again, then the visitors enjoyed the better of play after Connacht replacement prop Ronan Loughney saw yellow for two quickfire offences, the second of which saw him bring down a maul near halfway.
The Italians turned to their scrum to win a penalty with nine minutes to go, and centre Garcia was successful with the kick from distance to give his side a serious boost at 19-17.
Once more though in a tight game, Parks delivered for Connacht, finding a very good touch from a penalty and then pinging over his drop goal to restore the home side's lead.
Bergamasco's immediate sin-binning for killing ruck ball further unsettled the Italians and Parks' injury-time penalty sealed the westerners' third successive league win.