There is a renewed sense of confidence in the Connacht dressing room as they chase their third win on the trot against Italian side Aironi, which would represent the province’s best run of league results in nine years.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, April 21
CONNACHT (10th) v AIRONI RUGBY (12th), the Sportsground, 5pm (live Galway Bay FM)
Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has announced his team to face Aironi in the province’s last home game of the season at the Sportsground on Saturday.
The only change to last weekend’s starting side is prop Denis Buckley who joins the front row in place of the injured Brett Wilkinson.
Wilkinson picked up a calf strain during the interpro victory over Ulster and will now face a race against time to be fit for possible inclusion in Ireland’s summer tour squad.
Recent victories over the Dragons and Ulster have left Elwood’s men well placed to climb the RaboDirect PRO12 table and with just two points separating Connacht from the Dragons and Benetton Treviso, a best ever eighth place finish is certainly within reach.
Speaking about the team selection, Elwood said: “We’re looking for a strong performance and to finish the season on a high.
“We’ve had some excellent results in recent weeks and we hope to build on that and finish on an up.
“It’ll be a big day for the likes of Ray (Ofisa) and Henry (Fa’afili) playing in front of the home crowd for the last time, so it would be great to give them the send-off they deserve and finish with a win.”
Connacht Rugby will throw open it’s doors for a Family Fun Day this Saturday ahead of the match. From 2.30pm, the Sportsground will be transformed with bouncy castles, obstacle courses, a rugby assault course, meet the players and much more. Further details can be found on www.connachtrugby.ie.
Meanwhile, Aironi boss Rowland Phillips has also kept the changes to a minimum with Giovanbattista Venditti returning to the left wing and Sinoti Sinoti switching to outside centre in place of the benched Gilberto Pavan.
Full-back Tito Tebaldi, winger Giulio Toniolatti and inside centre Matteo Pratichetti complete the outside backs, while Luciano Orquera and Tyson Keats pair up again at half-back.
Number 8 Josh Sole combines with lankers Nicola Cattina and Simone Favaro in an unchanged back row behind captain Marco Bortolami and his second row partner Quintin Geldenhuys.
In the front row Matias Aguero and Lorenzo Romano are the props, linking up with experienced hooker Fabio Ongaro.
The fit-again Paolo Buso is also back in the matchday squad and is poised to make his seasonal debut for Aironi, having recovered from a long-term injury.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Tiernan O’Halloran, Kyle Tonetti, Henry Fa’afili, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy; Denis Buckley, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu.
Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Stewart Maguire, Rodney Ah You, Michael Kearney, Johnny O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Eoin Griffin.
AIRONI RUGBY: Tito Tebaldi; Giulio Toniolatti, Sinoti Sinoti, Matteo Pratichetti, Giovanbattista Venditti; Luciano Orquera, Tyson Keats; Matias Aguero, Fabio Ongaro, Lorenzo Romano, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami (capt), Nicola Cattina, Simone Favaro, Josh Sole.
Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice, Alberto de Marchi, Luca Redolfini, Joshua Furno, Nick Williams, Naas Olivier, Gilberto Pavan, Paolo Buso.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Stuart Gaffikin (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 1/5; Draw: 22/1; Aironi Rugby to win: 10/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “With one more home game to go and a toughie against Glasgow, there is still a lot to play for,” he told the Galway Advertiser.
“After our win over Ulster, everybody is in a good space and with Aironi coming here this weekend, it’s very much game on for our last home game of the season.
“If we are serious about the business we are in, then yes, we have to win this game, and that is the pressure we are putting on ourselves.
“We were disappointed with our performance in Aironi because we are far better than that. So this is an opportunity to get that back.
“To build on the momentum of our win away to the Dragons and last weekend against Ulster, it is imperative to finish the season at home on a high.
“To be fair to Aironi, they are workmanlike, you have to earn the right to win the game, and last year it was a tight ball game. They have a couple of guys coming back from injury, a lot of experience, and they are a dogged and physical team, and we have to match that. But on our day, at home we are confident.”
Rowlan Phillips (Aironi Rugby) – “There was the opportunity to win against the Scarlets. To beat them you have to win the physical battle in the forwards.
“We did that for the majority of the match, but there was something extra missing. But I am really happy with the scrum, with Lorenzo Romano playing very well, I’m pleased with the offensive and defensive structure.
“We probably just lacked a little calmness in the decisive moments, especially when we went into their 22 we didn’t have the patience required to take advantage of the chances we created.
“We have grown from the squad that was here last year. In Galway I’m expecting another step forward to build the mentality away from home that we show every time we play at home. It would be a shame to have to stop this work which we only feel is half done.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Niall O’Connor 86; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran 5; Aironi Rugby – Points: Luciano Orquera 87; Tries: Nick Williams 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, March 11, 2011 – Connacht 11 Aironi Rugby 6, the Sportsground
Saturday, March 26, 2011 – Aironi Rugby 25 Connacht 13, Stadio Zaffanella
Saturday, January 7, 2012 – Aironi Rugby 20 Connacht 6, Stadio Zaffanella
– Connacht have won their last two fixtures in the RaboDirect PRO12. The last time they bagged three successive wins in the league in the same season was way back during the 2002/03 campaign
– Connacht’s sole defeat in their last five home games was a 20-16 loss to Munster on March 24
– Aironi have won just one encounter since early January, overcoming Munster 21-17 at home on March 11
– This game will be Aironi’s final opportunity to win their first ever away game
– The three previous clashes between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day