Connacht v Benetton, Sportsground, Saturday, 3.15pm (Live on RTE, Premier Sports, URC TV)
Connacht head coach Pete Wilkins has made six changes to that team that went down to Munster in Limerick. Ireland wing Mack Hansen has recovered from injury, while Diarmuid Kilgallen, Niall Murray, Oisín Dowling, Paul Boyle, Kieran Marmion are promoted to the starting line-up.
The Benetton team that beat Edinburgh 24-17 at home last weekend shows nine changes to the run-on team. Niccolo Cannone and Marco Zuliani are the only survivors in the pack, while scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, centre Marco Zanon, right wing Marcus Watson and fullback Rhyno Smith have been retained behind the scrum.
The addition of players like centre Tommaso Menoncello, wing Eduardo Padovani, Michele Lamaro and number eight, Giovanni Pettinelli will strengthen the visiting side.
There’s no doubt that Connacht suffered the rough edge of the officiating last week but director of rugby Andy Friend was right to point to the fact that they are more composed and accurate in their patterns.
Friend said: “Last weekend was another frustrating performance for various reasons, and whilst our intent and attitude were excellent, the bottom line was that we didn’t deliver our best performance. That said, I was pleased with the way the players dug out a bonus point which could be crucial at the end of the season.
“We’re back at the Sportsground against a very confident Benetton team. If we wish to be the victors at the end of 80 minutes, we must bring a level of energy and physicality that we know that we’re capable of for the full game. We are a team that is creating plenty of opportunities, we just need to be better at capitalising on those.”
The Italians are dangerous opponents for any side that isn’t mentally and physically attuned to what will be a hugely physical encounter. Connacht will have to discharge the basics adequately and be precise in possession to prevail.
Connacht: J Porch; D Kilgallen, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty (capt), K Marmion; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; Ó Dowling, N Murray; C Prendergast, C Oliver, P Boyle. Replacements: D Tierney-Martin, P Dooley, J Aungier, G Thornbury, J Butler, C Blade, T Daly, T O’Halloran.
Benetton: R Smith, M Watson, T Menoncello, M Zanon, E Padovani; J Umaga, D Duvenage (capt); I Nemer, G Nicotera, F Alongi; N Cannone, S Scrafton; M Zuliani, M Lamaro, G Pettinelli. Replacements: L Frangini, T Gallo, N Tetaz, M Lazzaroni, A Izekor, A Garbisi, J Riera, I Mendy.
Referee: M van der Westhuizen (South Africa).