Aki’s return a boost as Connacht chase third straight Pro12 win
Lam names Delahunt, Cannon and Fox-Matamua in starting 15 for trip to Treviso
Ireland squad member Ultan Dillane forms part of an experienced core to the Connacht pack. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Benetton Treviso v Connacht
Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Sunday 12.30pm (Irish time)
Bundee Aki’s return to the Connacht team following an ankle injury sustained in December is a welcome fillip as the Irish province chase three successive victories in the Guinness Pro12 during the regular season for the first time since March last year.
Indeed, their recent victory in Cardiff was a first away win in 11 months in the league, and Pat Lam will be determined to see his side build on that. Matt Healy picked up an injury in training during the week so Danie Poolman is named on the left wing.
Shane Delahunt, James Cannon and Nepia Fox-Matamua are all given an opportunity to start a match. There is an experienced core to the pack, bolstered by the presence of Ireland squad members Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane.
Sean O’Brien has impressed in recent outings at blindside flanker, while for players such as Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Denis Buckley, there is an incentive to continue to play well and press claims to travel with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland to the US and Japan this summer.
Treviso coach Kieran Crowley has made two changes to the side that lost to Cardiff last week. Italian international Alberto Sgarbi comes in at inside centre and will captain the team, while Andrea Buondonno replaces Angelo Esposito on the left wing.
The Treviso team is sprinkled with players who have Test match experience, and there is a smidgeon of head scratching as to why they don’t manage better performances as a rule.
The Italian club have won only two home games this season, against Zebre and the Newport Gwent Dragons, but they did squeeze past Connacht 22-21 the last time the teams met at today’s venue.
Lam said: “We know from experience how difficult it is to go to Treviso and get a good result. With the travel factor and the short turnaround on the other side, it is so important that we get our mental preparation spot on as well as the physical side of things.
“Every game and every point is vital for us and we will be going to Italy fully intent on improving on last week’s performance.”
BENETTON TREVISO: L Sperandio: M Tagicakibau, T Iannone, A Sgarbi (capt), A Buondonno; I McKinley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, L Bigi, T Pasquali; T Paulo, D Budd; M Lazzaroni, F Minto, R Barbieri. Replacements: R Santamaria, M Zanusso, M Irving, L Nostran, F Ferrarini, E Francescato, A Pratichetti, D Odiete.
CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, Bundee Aki, C Ronaldson, D Poolman; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; S O’Brien, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, J Andress, Q Roux, N Dawai, J Cooney, T Farrell, S Ili.
Referee: I Davies (Wales)