Connacht are in Italy for the Easter weekend but their minds are far from holidays just yet, with Eric Elwood’s men determined to return to winning ways in the RaboDirect PRO12 and close the gap on seventh-placed Benetton Treviso.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 30
BENETTON TREVISO (7th) v CONNACHT (9th), Stadio di Monigo, 8pm local time/7pm Irish time (live SportItalia 2)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team to play Benetton Treviso in the latest round of the RaboDirect PRO12 at the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday.
There are four personnel changes and two positional switches to the Connacht team that lost 22-0 to Munster last weekend, with all of the alterations coming in the pack.
Jason Harris-Wright suffered a calf muscle strain during the interprovincial clash at Musgrave Park and is out of action this week as a result. Adrian Flavin will start in his place at hooker, earning his 140th cap for Connacht.
Ronan Loughney comes into the front row in place of Nathan White who drops down to the replacements bench.
The second row is made up of Michael Kearney and Ireland international Mike McCarthy, who returns to the starting line-up this week after appearing as a replacement in Cork.
There is a reshuffle in the back row with John Muldoon returning to his more familiar blindside flanker position. Willie Faloon, who picked up a slight ankle injury this week in training, is replaced by Eoin McKeon at openside and George Naoupu starts at number 8.
David Heffernan is named among the forward replacements. The 22-year-old Ballina man, who recently signed a development contract that will see him progress to the senior squad next season, earned his first senior cap against the Scarlets this time last year.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso come into this game having just completed the full set of wins over RaboDirect PRO12 teams with the Cardiff Blues being the last side to succumb to the powerful Italians.
Alberto di Bernardo kicked 16 points and the returning Alessandro Zanni scored the opening try in their 26-17 defeat of the Blues in the previous round.
The front five from last Saturday’s home win remains intact unsurprisingly, with Italy international Leonardo Ghiraldini captaining Treviso from the front row.
Simone Favaro comes in for his first start since the completion of Italy’s successful RBS 6 Nations campaign, lining out at blindside flanker with Dean Budd moving to number 8.
Tobie Botes rejoins top scorer di Bernardo at half-back with Edoardo Gori and Luke McLean also resuming in the back-three, with Christian Loamanu and Brendan Williams the players to make way.
Ludovico Nitoglia completes the back-three for Treviso, and he is set to make his 50th league appearance.
Nitoglia will be hoping to complete his own ‘full set’ of tries against Irish opposition – he has already touched down against Ulster, Leinster and Munster in this season’s league.
BENETTON TREVISO: Luke McLean; Ludovico Nitoglia, Tommaso Iannone, Gideon la Grange, Edoardo Gori; Alberto di Bernardo, Tobie Botes; Alberto de Marchi, Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), Lorenzo Cittadini, Francesco Minto, Corniel van Zyl, Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd.
Replacements: Giovanni Maistri, Michele Rizzo, Jacobus Roux, Antonio Pavanello, Paul Derbyshire, Marco Filippucci, Fabio Semenzato, Kris Burton.
CONNACHT: Robbie Henshaw; Danie Poolman, Eoin Griffin, Brian Murphy, Gavin Duffy (capt); Dan Parks, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Adrian Flavin, Ronan Loughney, Michael Kearney, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Eoin McKeon, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Denis Buckley, Nathan White, Andrew Browne, David Heffernan, Paul O’Donohoe, Miah Nikora, Fetu’u Vainikolo.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Elia Rizzo, Filippo Navarra (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Mauro Dordolo (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Benetton Treviso to win: 1/4; Draw: 22/1; Connacht to win: 11/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “We promised ourselves we would front up (against Munster), and we didnt do it. Ironically we lost the game at the start when they went 12-0 up after 14 minutes,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“Unfortunately we left it too late and after 79 minutes we showed bravery and didn’t let them in for a fourth try. If we had shown that same intent at the start of the game, it could have been a different proposition and that is what is disappointing.
“Treviso are in a good place having beaten Munster, drawn with Ulster and beaten Cardiff so they have a massive opportunity to pull clear and this week it is going to be harder than last week. However, I am looking for a backlash from our guys in their performance.
“We know we can go there and win, but the challenge is more difficult. They have won their last three on the bounce and they have their internationals back.
“It is important we get something out of the next two games away so we can finish on a high at home. We are looking for some ‘bouncebackability’ this week.”
Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Treviso) – “It’s been a cycle for us since we joined the league trying to progress each season. In the first year it was all about being competitive and we had some very good results at home.
“Then in our second season we were able to get some away wins as well and score a few more tries. We feel like we have built on that this season, and the win over Cardiff was really important for us.
“It’s a landmark to have beaten every team in the competition now and it was something we were aware of before the game.
“We have four games left now and want to try to push on from here. If you look at it, we have had a couple of games where we came very close and just lost out at the end, so next season I think the important thing is that we are more clinical.
“It will be difficult to catch Munster (in sixth place), but we want to make sure we finish seventh, which would be our highest-ever finish.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Benetton Treviso – Points: Alberto di Bernardo 86; Tries: Robert Barbieri 7; Connacht – Points: Dan Parks 100; Tries: Danie Poolman 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 30, 2010 – Benetton Treviso 24 Connacht 17, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, March 4, 2011 – Connacht 31 Benetton Treviso 25, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 3, 2011 – Benetton Treviso 9 Connacht 11, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, December 2, 2011 – Connacht 13 Benetton Treviso 15, the Sportsground
Saturday, November 3, 2012 – Connacht 18 Benetton Treviso 3, the Sportsground
– Benetton Treviso are unbeaten in their last three RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures and are on target to produce a best ever finish in the competition
– Treviso have won their last four games in the PRO12 at the Stadio di Monigo, their best ever home run. The Italians are also unbeaten in their last two games against Irish opponents
– Connacht’s three-match winning run in the PRO12 ended at the hands of Munster in Cork last weekend
– Connacht’s only two away victories in the competition this season came against Zebre in round 2 and Cardiff Blues in round 16. The westerners have won their last six matches against Italian opponents in all competitions
– Connacht have the slight edge in encounters between the two teams winning three games to Treviso’s two, and were victorious 18-3 when Treviso visited Galway in round 8