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Kieran Keane's men had more of the possession (58%) and territory (56%) but failed to translate that onto the scoreboard, as the Italians' stronger finish made it six league defeats on the road for Connacht since they won at Edinburgh in April.

Carla Canna was successful with two first half penalty attempts, sandwiching two bad misses by Steve Crosbie at the other end, to give Zebre a 6-0 lead at the interval. The Italian international's second strike came on the back of flanker Eoghan Masterson's yellow card for killing the ball in front of theConnacht posts.

A fortuitous but well-taken try from Tom Farrell, coupled with a Jack Carty penalty, had the westerners leading 10-9 in the final quarter of an hour, before Zebre went on a scoring blitz to run out comfortable winners in the end. Johan Meyer touched down from a Canna chip, the latter landed a drop goal, and a terrific three-man move down the left flank saw fired-up winger Giovanbattista Venditti finish off the clinching second try.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Connacht head coach Keane admitted: "I am disappointed. It was a tight game and Zebre are a good side. Playing at home, we knew their tails would be up. We knew all about that and talked about that during the week.

"Our preparation was really good. It's a head scratcher. The changing room is deathly quiet. Everybody is reflecting. Everything just broke down on us. All the option-taking was a bit average.

"I am going to have to sit down and figure it out with some of the coaches. Some individuals didn't endear themselves very well, did they? Some pretty average performances. It's what we have to get right."

Neither team could make the breakthrough early on, with both defences well organised. Zebre's determination to end their recent losing streak was summed up by Venditti's tackling of Shane Delahunt into touch, and then some decent phases off their first lineout opportunity in the 22.

Canna's subsequent 10th-minute penalty, punishing a Connacht offside in front of their posts, put the Italians on the board. They were quick off the line in defence, suffocating the Connacht carriers and keeping the visitors cramped either side of the halfway line.

Centre Farrell was one of the only players in green who regularly showed an ability to beat a man and offload, while Cian Kelleher, having done the hard work in gathering Crosbie's garryowen past the Zebre 10-metre line, unfortunately could not link with James Connolly in support.

Masterson was quick in at the breakdown to force a 13th minute penalty which Crosbie nudged wide, and centres Farrell and Pita Ahki, who was making his first start, lacked support after some nice handling had taken play up to the Zebre 22. The turnover almost led to a dangerous break but Giulio Bisegni's pass went straight into touch.

Connacht were on the front foot either side of the 20-minute mark, but they had a maul disrupted in the 22 and struggled to break down the home defence. Another three-pointer was missed from a scrum penalty when Crosbie sent his kick to the right and wide again.

The flow of the game was not helped by messy scrums, while Connacht's passing was just not crisp enough. Even when they had a rare bit of space from an Ahki pass to Matt Healy, the winger's kick through was well covered by the hosts. They continued to mix the good with the bad - Farrell was whistled up for obstruction before Denis Buckley's penalty win at a ruck broke up the Zebre attack.

It was Zebre's South African flanker Meyer who made the incision in the lead up to Canna's second penalty goal, on the stroke of half-time. The latter's cross-field kick almost put Venditti over for a try in the left corner, but Tiernan O'Halloran and Kelleher did just enough to prevent the grounding.

Referee George Clancy brought play back for a central penalty with Masterson seeing yellow and Canna's straightforward kick doubling the home side's lead at the break. However, an opportunist 43rd-minute try from Farrell edged Connacht ahead for the first time. James Cannon had the ball ripped from his grasp in a tackle but Zebre could not deal with the loose ball and Farrell got his left boot to it and touched down ahead of Mattia Bellini.

Crosbie swung over the conversion from the left wing for a 7-6 scoreline, and Connacht were beginning to play with more accuracy and intensity, led by strong carries from Ultan Dillane and Ahki. The third quarter was rather listless, apart from a Kieran Marmion break along the left touchline but his offload back inside for Buckley was too low and knocked on.

Marmion's opposite number Marcello Violi also threatened from a Venditti turnover. The match officials missed a clear case of obstruction by Violi on the chasing Kelleher in the next phase, before Dillane was done for a high tackle but Zebre subsequently knocked on in Connacht's 22.

Maxime Mbanda got a chance to stretch his legs at the start of the final quarter, with the ball breaking for him from a Canna chip over the top. Connacht had to scramble to avoid conceding a try, but an offside call saw Canna - one of seven players who lined out for Italy against South Africa last week - boot them back in front in the 61st minute.

Finlay Bealham thumped the ground in disgust after he failed to hold onto a Kelleher pass with the try-line at the his mercy. It was arguably Connacht's best attacking spell of the match, with Healy, Farrell and Carty all prominent. Man-of-the-match Violi's covering across contributed to Bealham dropping the ball, yet the westerners moved back in front thanks to a close range penalty from Carty, who formed a new half-back pairing with fellow replacement James Mitchell.

Nonetheless, Connacht endured a nightmare final 13 minutes during which Zebre scored 15 points without reply. Venditti took down the restart, setting Michael Bradley's charges immediately on a roll, and Canna's chip bounced up nicely for the onrushing Meyer to gather and touch down to the right of the posts. Canna converted for a sudden 16-10 lead.

Connacht allowed their discipline to drop, giving away three penalties in quick succession, although captain John Muldoon rightly felt aggrieved that Clancy and his assistant Sean Gallagher let Oliviero Fabiani away with two crooked lineout throws. Canna was badly off target with a penalty effort but landed a drop goal soon after to widen the margin to nine points.

The final nail in Connacht's coffin was a brilliantly-worked 76th-minute try off a Matteo Minozzi turnover on the Zebre 10-metre line. He broke to the left and linked with Venditti and Bisegni before taking a return pass and teeing up Venditti to evade both Carty and Kelleher - Connacht missed 28 tackles in all - and gleefully cross the whitewash.

The ball had gone to ground in the build-up but TMO Leo Colgan ruled that it had been knocked back by Healy rather than knocked forward by Zebre, so the score stood and Canna added the extras to leave the 2016 champions a full 14 points adrift.

O'Halloran's leap for the restart and Mitchell's swift distribution got Connacht playing at a high tempo in the final few minutes, but despite Zebre centre Tommasi Boni seeing yellow, Muldoon lost a last-minute lineout forward and the losing bonus point stayed out of the province's reach.
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