Time for Connacht to close out the tight encounters
ERIC ELWOOD’S frustration is palpable. His message ahead of today’s RaboDirect Pro12 game offers familiar themes regarding accuracy and execution. A wish-list for the Connacht coach would be a more even keel in terms of performance rather than the wildly fluctuating levels that would try the patience of all but the most stoic.
This is Connacht’s first home league match since their epic 34-6 victory over Leinster. In the interim, aspects of their displays have been admirable, but ultimately undermined by too many mistakes.
If they don’t want to be patronised as plucky underachievers then they’re going to have to win matches, finishing on the right side of close games and be able to carry the mantle of expectation without collapsing under its weight.
Benetton Treviso won on their last visit to Galway but they shouldn’t come close this time. Elwood makes six changes. Robbie Henshaw reverts to fullback after a playing sabbatical in the centre. South African Danie Poolman starts in midfield for the first time alongside Dave McSharry. Gavin Duffy returns to the match squad – he’s on the bench – following injury.
Up front Denis Buckley is named at loosehead prop while Mike McCarthy returns from Ireland training to start in the secondrow. It’s nice to see Andrew Browne back after a serious injury and he joins Johnny O’Connor and Eoin McKeon in the backrow.
Treviso give debuts to right wing Angelo Esposito and prop Matteo Muccignat but there are plenty of familiar faces in their team. Alberto Di Bernardo has recovered from an injury suffered during a Heineken Cup match against the Ospreys and will partner Fabio Semenzato at halfback.
Elwood admitted: “It has become a must-win for us and it is well within our range. We just need to cut out some of the errors and capitalise on the chances we are creating. It has been a busy period but there is a break coming up and we need to go into that with a win under our belt.”
Dan Parks has already proved an excellent acquisition but some of his team-mates would do well to lean so much on his place-kicking.
Connacht need to score tries, bringing training ground precision to the match arena. That centres on players taking responsibility to play what is in front of them, tweaking patterns rather than slavishly adhering to them.
To be successful they need to play for 80 minutes, not just in fits and starts. Leinster remains the benchmark of what they can achieve and how far they fall short from time to time.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, D Poolman, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, N White (capt); M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O’Connor, E McKeon. Replacements: A Flavin, R Ah You, R Loughney, J Muldoon, M Kearney, D Moore, M Nikora, G Duffy.
BENETTON TREVISO:B Williams; A Vilk, C Loamanu, A Pratichetti, A Esposito; A Di Bernardo, F Semenzato; M Muccignat, F Sbaraglini, J Roux; M Fuser, C van Zyl (capt); M Vosawi, V Bernabo, M Filippucci.
Replacements: E Ceccato, A De Marchi, I Fernandez-Rouyet, G Maistri, E Targa, G Toniolatti, J Ambrosini, L Morisi.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales).
Verdict: Connacht to win.