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Saturday 10 December 2016

Lam well stocked to lead Connacht's drive for five in Italy

Zebre v Connacht, Tomorrow (ko 3.15), live BT Sport

Pat Lam
Pat Lam

Former Ireland U20 captain Sean O'Brien will make his first start of the season in the Champions Cup.

The impressive 21-year-old back-rower will partner Jake Heenan and John Muldoon in a well-balanced unit.

Cian Kelleher will have another shot at full-back, in the absence of the injured Tiernan O'Halloran, where the former Leinster man did not cover himself in glory earlier in the season.

The defensive flaws have been worked on and are more than compensated for by the X-factor in attack, which has left Tommy Bowe and Yoann Huget on their backsides in recent weeks.

Connacht will make five points a necessity out of the next best thing to a guaranteed victory in this competition. But therein lies the danger for Connacht.

They have to be as spot on at Stadio Lanfranchi as they were for French giants Toulouse in Galway.

"With Zebre's target of winning their first Champions Cup game, we are fully expecting to see the real Zebre front up at home," said coach Pat Lam.

"Our whole week has been focused on our continued improvement in team performance which will give us the best chance to face their challenge head on."

In addition, Lam has made seven changes, notably handing first starts to hooker Shane Delahunt and wing Stacey Ili.

Quinn Roux is back from injury and Peter Robb will do what he can to fill the void left by Bundee Aki.

Zebre: E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; M Mbanda, J Meyer, D van Schalkwyk.

Connacht: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, P Robb, C Ronaldson, S Ili; J Carty, K Marmion; JP Cooney, S Delahunt, F Bealham; Q Roux, A Browne; S O'Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).

Verdict: Connacht.

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