Pro14: Connacht edge Zebre 6-5 to move closer to play-off place
|Pro14: Zebre v Connacht|
|Zebre (0) 5|
|Connacht (6) 6|
|Pens: Carty 2|
Connacht took another step towards a Pro14 play-off place with a scrappy 6-5 win over Zebre in Parma.
Jack Carty kicked two penalties as Connacht moved clear of Cardiff Blues in the race for third in Conference A.
Mattia Bellini crossed for the only try but Zebre saw two second-half penalties drift wide as they missed out on a first win since October.
If Connacht beat Cardiff in Galway next week they will secure a quarter-final spot and Champions Cup qualification.
Zebre will rue their failure to clinch their first Pro14 victory since their round-seven defeat of Edinburgh as Edoardo Padovani and Guglielmo Palazzani both missed penalties in a taut second-half battle at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Carty puts Connacht ahead
Seeking their first league win since 26 October, Zebre started promisingly but any attacking momentum from the Italian side was undone by their malfunctioning set-piece.
An over-thrown line-out in a promising position allowed Connacht to escape from their own half and earn an early penalty for Carty.
The Ireland fly-half added another penalty mid-way through the opening period but Connacht were left frustrated by their failure to convert their scrum dominance into further points.
The visitors attempted one final attack before the break but could not find a way through a resolute Zebre defence as they had to settle for a six-point advantage at half-time.
Zebre pay heavy price for missed kicks
Connacht's hard-earned lead was reduced to a solitary point at the start of the second half when Zebre fashioned a brilliant try from one of their rare visits into opposition territory.
Quick-thinking scrum-half Francois Brummer popped to the on-rushing Andrea Lovotti and the Italy international prop showed good hands find David Sisi, who was brought down just short of the line, and Bellini showed good instincts to dart over before the visiting defence could regroup.
The Irish province thought they had crossed for their own try in the 55th minute when Darragh Leader went over in the corner but the score was eventually overturned by the TMO for a forward pass in the build up.
Connacht's line-out flaws were exposed at the start of the final quarter when they lost possession on their own five-metre line and had to scramble to stop Daniele Rimpelli from driving over for a second Zebre try.
The home side won a penalty from the resulting scrum but Edoardo Padovani, who also missed with his conversion attempt, was wayward with his kick at goal.
Connacht wasted another attacking chance when Carty kicked his penalty over the deadball line and Zebre nearly punished that error when their scrum won a penalty on the halfway line but replacement scrum-half Palazzani saw his kick drift left of the posts.
Michael Bradley's side desperately pushed for another scoring opportunity but the visiting defence held out in the closing stages to snatch an ugly, but vital, four points.
Zebre: Padovani; Bellini, Bisegni, Boni, Elliot; Brummer, Renton; Lovotti, Fabiani, Ciccioli, Sisi, Biagi, Tuivaiti, Mbanda, Giammarioli
Replacements: Ceciliani, Rimpeli, Zilocchi, Krumov, Brown, Palazzani, De Battista, Di Giulio
Connacht: O'Halloran; Leader, Farrell, Robb, Healy; Carty, Blade; Buckley, Heffernan, Robertson-McCoy, Dillane, Thornbury, McKeon, Fainga'a, Butler.
Replacements: Delahunt, McCabe, O'Donnell, Maksymiw, Copeland, Marmion, Daly, Kelleher.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)