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Amlin Challenge Cup Preview: I Cavalieri Estra v Connacht

Amlin Challenge Cup Preview: I Cavalieri Estra v Connacht

Connacht fell at the penultimate hurdle in last season’s Amlin Challenge Cup, going down to Toulon in a hard-fought semi-final. Keen to reach the knockout stages once again, the westerners face something of an unknown quantity in Italian side, I Cavalieri Estra.

AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP: POOL 1: Saturday, October 9

I CAVALIERI ESTRA v CONNACHT, Stadio Lungobisenzio, 3pm local time/2pm Irish time

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Team News: St. Mary’s College clubman Rob Sweeney will makes his full debut for Connacht, starting in a front row which includes 100-cap prop Brett Wilkinson.

Winger Darragh Fanning and scrum half Cillian Willis will also make their first starts for the province. All three have featured in Connacht’s opening salvo of Magners League matches as impact replacements and have been rewarded for their efforts.

Galway natives Johnny O’Connor, Andrew Browne and John Muldoon are included in the strong line-up as Connacht look to replicate last season’s unbeaten pool run.

Muldoon returns to the side having recovered from a broken arm sustained during Ireland’s summer tour match against the All Blacks, and O’Connor has been passed fit following a back injury.

Commenting on a pool which also includes Bayonne and Harlequins, Connacht coach Eric Elwood said: “If we beat Cavalieri, it will give us confidence going into next week’s home match against Bayonne which will be a very tough encounter.

“Bayonne got off to a flyer and are still in the top half of the French Championship, while Harlequins are always difficult.

“If you look back even last season you had Wasps, Gloucester, and some big French teams. It’s a competitive tournament. It may not be top tier, but if you look at the teams that have won the Amlin Challenge Cup, they are all big clubs.”

Meanwhile, for their first ever Amlin Challenge Cup match, I Cavalieri Estra boast three players who have been included in the Italy training squad for the autumn internationals.

Italian coach Nick Mallett has called on centres Denis Majstorovic and Sebastien Rodwell, along with Nicola Belardo, who will start from the replacements bench.

Cavalieri finished fifth in the Super 10 last season, in what was their first campaign in the Italian Championship.

The Prato-based side are coached by Gabriele Lai and recruited heavily for this season, bringing in the likes of Argentinian prop Gabriel Bocca, South African lock Wouter Moore and former Parma scrum half Pino Patelli.

They have Auckland-born former Italy international Rima Wakarua at full-back. Now 34, he famously kicked Italy to victory over Canada at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Fijian number 8 Noa Soqueta is another player to watch out for, while replacement back Ed Lewis Pratt has made the switch from London Welsh – he played against Ulster Ravens in last season’s British & Irish Cup.

Cavalieri come into this game on the back of a 47-10 home win over Marchiol Mogliano, and currently sit third in the Super 10 standings after three victories in their first four outings.

I CAVALIERI ESTRA: Rima Wakarua; Niccolò Tempestini, Denis Majstorovic, Sebastian Rodwell, Filippo Vezzosi; Alberto Chiesa, Pino Patelli; Leandro Poloni, Lorenzo Giovanchelli (capt), Gabriel Bocca, Luca Beccaris, Wouter Moore, Luca Petillo, Filippo Cristiano, Noa Soqueta.

Replacements: Alessio Neri, Davide Stefani, Gerlando Marino, Nicola Belardo, Alessandro Lunardi, Alessio Mereghetti, Ed Lewis Pratt, Filippo Giusti.

CONNACHT: Troy Nathan; Darragh Fanning, Niva Ta’auso, Miah Nikora, Fionn Carr; Ian Keatley, Cillian Willis; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Rob Sweeney, Michael Swift, Bernie Upton, Andrew Browne, Johnny O’Connor, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: Dermot Murphy, Barry Fa’amausili, Ronan Loughney, Mike McComish, Michael McCarthy, Frank Murphy, Aidan Wynne, Shane Monahan.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Akim Hadj Bachir, Arnaud Blondel (both France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): I Cavalieri Estra to win: 7/1; Draw: 40/1; Connacht to win: 1/14

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We are expected to win so it is a potential banana skin. But it’s a match we’re very much looking forward to. We’ve parked the Cardiff game and the Magners League, and it’s a nice break to be going into Europe.

“There are bigger games ahead, and we have to show faith in our squad, give other players an opportunity and I am sure some of them will be given their chance to step up to the plate this weekend.

“The new Connacht want to do well in every game we play, and that’s why I was really disappointed in Cardiff, because I thought we had good opportunity. We created 10 line breaks but just had too many turnovers.

“This is Cavalieri’s first game in Europe. They have had three guys called into the Italian squad, so you just don’t know what to expect from them.

“We’ve a video of one of their games – that’s all we have to go on so we will just concentrate on our own game.

“It’s absolutely vital we go there in the right frame of mind. That’s the key to make sure there isn’t an upset.

“We just need to go there and do a good professional job, get the points and come home and start preparing for Bayonne.”

Current Form – I Cavalieri Estra – (Super 10): Won 20-10 away to Casino di Venezia; Won 22-9 at home to Mantovani Lazio 1927; Lost 20-10 away to Femi-CZ Rovigo Delta; Won 47-10 at home to Marchiol Mogliano

Connacht – (Magners League): Won 40-17 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 35-33 away to the Scarlets; Won 19-17 away to Glasgow Warriors; Drew 15-15 at home to Ulster; Lost 22-6 away to the Cardiff Blues

Previous European Meetings: 0

Amlin Challenge Cup Records:

I Cavalieri Estra –
2010/11 is their first season in Europe

Connacht –
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool 3