Challenge Cup: Connacht need to bring extra intensity to beat Benetton

With home advantage for the Italian side, Irish province will be underdogs

Challenge Cup quarter-final: Benetton v Connacht, Stadio Comunale di Monigo. Sunday, 12.30pm (Live on Premier Sports 2)

Connacht are facing familiar URC foes Benetton in a crunch Challenge Cup quarter-final on Sunday.

The hosts, with home advantage, will be favourites – backed also by a strong record in this competition.

Simply put, Benetton has never lost a knock-out fixture in the European competition at home, and will want to replicate their stunning victory over the Bulls in the 2021 Rainbow Cup when they delivered a 35-8 thumping, having disposed of Connacht in round four by 20-12.


Last season the Italians delivered a 41-19 win over Connacht at home in the URC, and this year the stats back up their cup credentials. After their 27-17 win over Emirates Rugby they are currently second in clean breaks, turnovers won, tries and points scored in the European competition.

This will be no walkover for Pete Wilkins’ men, whose season has been somewhat erratic, but there is hope. Last weekend they delivered one of their strongest performances to prevail over Pau in France, but have lost Shayne Bolton, Jack Carty, and Jarrad Butler to injury. Andrew Smith, JJ Hanrahan and Paul Boyle are named in their stead, while Darragh Murray comes in for brother Niall who is on the bench, alongside Peter Dooley, Cathal Forde, and promising 22-year-old scrumhalf Matthew Devine, son of former Connacht winger Michael.

The Italian outfit has made six personnel and a host of positional changes, with Italian captain Michele Lamaro returning to lead the side, and Argentians Ignacio Mendy and Tomas Alboroz coming into the backline.

Wilkins is heartened by Connacht’s recent result against the Italians which they lost by four points, 18-14, in the last round of the URC, also played in Studio Monigo. And again this week Connacht fans are travelling in numbers, having played a vociferous role last weekend.

“We are all aware of the significance of this game and what a positive result would mean to the province, not to mention our incredible supporters, many of whom have joined us on the journeys to Italy and France over recent weeks.

“It will be another great challenge this weekend, and as ever their support will play a massive part as we strive to reach the last four of the Challenge Cup.”

To do so, Connacht will need to apply the same, if not more intensity, that they took to Pau.

Benetton: R Smith, I Mendy, T Menoncello, N Brex, O Ratave, T Albornoz, A Garbisi, T Gallo, G Lucchesi, S Ferrari, N Cannone, F Ruzza, S Negri da Ollegio, M Lamaro (capt), T Halafihi. Replacements: B Bernasconi, M Spagnolo, G Zilocchi, E Snyman, A Izekor, L Cannone, A Uren, J Umaga.

Connacht: T O’Halloran, A Smith, D Hawkshaw, B Aki, S Jennings, JJ Hanrahan, C Blade (capt), D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, J Joyce, D Murray, C Prendergast, S Hurley-Langton, P Boyle. Replacements: E de Buitlear, P Dooley, S Illo, N Murray, C Oliver, M Devine, C Forde, T Farrell.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).