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22-year-old academy graduate inspires Connacht victory over Zebre

Matthew Devine of Connacht in action against Gonzalo Garcia of Zebre on his way to scoring his and his side's second try during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Zebre Parma at Dexcom Stadium in Galway. (Photo By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Academy graduate Matthew Devine impressed as Connacht blitzed Zebre 54-16 in the United Rugby Championship at Dexcom Stadium.


The 22-year-old scrum-half marked his maiden start with two first-half tries, as Pete Wilkins’ side moved into a 21-11 lead by half-time.

Geronimo Prisciantelli and Simon Gesi both split the posts to sandwich Jacopo Trulla’s 20th-minute try, but JJ Hanrahan created and converted Niall Murray’s score out wide.

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Tom Farrell, Sean O’Brien, Bundee Aki and Hanrahan – who finished with 17 points – boosted Connacht’s try haul to seven, before a 76th-minute penalty try for an illegally collapsed maul.

Replacement Enrico Lucchin’s breakaway try was the highlight of Zebre’s second half, which petered out with yellow cards for Danilo Fischetti and Andrea Zambonin.

Despite having centre Fetuli Paea sin binned for a high tackle on John Porch, Zebre took a 13th-minute lead through a Prisciantelli drop goal.

Connacht were first to cross the whitewash though, as Devine sniped over from a tap penalty – despite tackles from Gonzalo Garcia and Zambonin. Hanrahan converted from the right.


Nonetheless, Shane Jennings failed to deal with a Prisciantelli grubber kick, allowing Trulla to nudge the ball on and touch down.

Again it was Devine who provided the spark for the hosts, breaking from a ruck 40 metres out to dart over near the posts.

A Gesi penalty closed the gap to 14-11, but Hanrahan’s well-weighted cross-field kick bounced up invitingly for Murray to raid over from the left.

In the 46th minute, Andrew Smith sliced through and although his pass was almost intercepted by Prisciantelli, it fell for Farrell to run in behind the posts.


Hanrahan converted and it was his midfield run that led to O’Brien’s 52nd-minute touchdown. Winger Smith was tackled short, but the ball was retained for the young number eight to burrow over.

Zebre went close through Iacopo Bianchi, who was held up, before Prisciantelli broke onto Thomas Dominguez’s chip kick and neatly sent Lucchin over from 30 metres out.

That good work was undone by Fischetti’s yellow for a late, no-arms tackle, which led to Aki powering over from a maul. Slick hands from replacement Caolin Blade and Farrell released Hanrahan to grab his try.

On a night when Finlay Bealham made his 200th Connacht appearance, their late penalty try landed Zambonin in the bin. The hosts now sit ninth in the table, level on 39 points with eighth-placed Edinburgh.


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