Connacht fly-half Miah Nikora put in a faultless kicking display to dash Zebre’s hopes of a victory in their RaboDirect PRO12 home debut with the visitors running out 30-17 winners in a hotly-contested game in Parma.
It was Connacht’s first victory of the season and in a role reversal from last week’s loss to Cardiff Blues, the Irishmen made their chances pay as wing Tiernan O’Halloran and No. 8. George Naoupu both scored tries.
But it was Nikora’s 15 points with the boot which made the difference with Zebre also crossing twice through veteran wing Samuele Pace and former Blue Bulls flanker Dries van Schalkwyk.
Connacht head coach Eric Elwood insisted in the week that his side had to learn the law of possession after conceding 11 turnovers in the first half against the Blues.
And his pack proved to be good listeners, cleanly winning their first three lineouts to hand Nikora and his backline the front foot ball they were staved of in round one.
New Zealand-born Nikora drew first blood with a calmly-struck penalty in the 13th minute.
His opposite man Luciano Orquera failed with his first attempt on goal just before the half-hour mark and things got worse for the home fans when Zebre were turned over and from a chip O’Halloran collected to go over with Nikora converting.
He then added another penalty just before half-time when Van Schalkwyk was penalised for holding onto the ball.
Nikora then kept up his perfect record from the tee and the sides went down the tunnel with the scores at 13-0 to Connacht.
Zebre’s first-ever try in the RaboDirect PRO12 came four minutes into the second half courtesy of some lacklustre defending by Connacht allowing left wing Pace to steal in.
Orquera added the extras but Pace then went from hero to villain when he tackled Connacht full-back and captain Gavin Duffy in the air and was given his marching orders for a ten-minute breather.
It took Connacht four minutes to capitalise with Nikora’s fourth successful kick of the night to reaffirm their lead at 16-7.
Zebre rang the changes but it was Connacht who marched further ahead with a try by No. 8 Naoupu and again Nikora converted.
Zebre’s risposte was instantaneous and came from a charging Van Schalkwyk who shrugged off three defenders to score, Orquera converted to reduce the deficit to 23-14.
A flurry of yellow cards characterised the last 20 minutes as first Connacht replacement Dave Gannon was binned before his teammate Rodney Ah You and Zebre’s Luca Redolfini were also given breathers.
Orquera knocked over the ensuing penalty to give Zebre a shot at victory but Connacht added a third try in the closing stages through lock Mike McCarthy and Nikora rounded off his night with his sixth successful kick at goal.