Connacht taking no chances against in-form Benetton

Coach Friend includes three internationals in squad for important Pro14 test

Ireland’s Ultan Dillane takes on France’s  Mathieu Bastareaud during the recent clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland’s Ultan Dillane takes on France’s Mathieu Bastareaud during the recent clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Connacht v Benetton, Sportsground (7.35, live on TG4, Eir Sport)

Connacht coach Andy Friend has elected to include three internationals for an important Pro14 game against in-form Benetton.

Ultan Dillane has been named in the starting team partnering James Cannon in the secondrow while halfbacks, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are included among the replacements.

Marmion and Carty were second¨-half replacements in Ireland’s defeat to the Grand Slam-winning Wales side at the Principality stadium last weekend with the outhalf scoring his first points for the national side in converting Jordan Larmour’s injury-time try.

Peter Robb starts alongside Tom Farrell in midfield, the latter having spent some time in Ireland camp in recognition of his consistent excellence. Robb starts his second game this season following injury and will provide the team with power on the gain-line.

Kyle Godwin was outstanding in the victory over the Ospreys and retains the 10 jersey while the pack is peppered with players who have contributed handsomely throughout the campaign. Gavin Thornbury has recovered from injury and is included in the replacements.

Benetton’s performances this season deserve huge praise, 10 victories to date, and Leinster’s closest pursuers in Conference B to boot. They have a tricky run-in though, on the road for three of their four remaining games; away to Connacht, Leinster and Zebre with a home match against Munster on the penultimate weekend of the league stage of the tournament.

The Italian side are a point ahead of Ulster but with the Irish province hosting the Southern Kings in Belfast on Saturday night, they’ll know that anything other than a win in Galway will compromise both their hopes of a home quarter-final and even a place in that playoff match.

Head coach Kieran Crowley has retained 12 of the side that beat Edinburgh last time out with centre Tommaso Benvenuti, hooker Hame Faiva and secondrow Alessandro Zanni promoted to the starting team.

The visitors are physical and uncompromising up front but there’s plenty of quality and width to their attacking patterns, marshalled by outhalf Ian McKinley.

Friend acknowledged: “I’m not surprised they’re sitting in second spot. They’re playing a physical yet attractive brand of rugby.

“We said at the start of the year we wanted to be there at the business end and we’re there or thereabouts, but we need to keep winning to make sure we control our destiny. If we don’t, then we have to start looking at points and seeing where we can scrounge some. At this stage it’s just about the win.”

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, P Robb, M Healy; K Godwin, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler (capt). Replacements: T McCartney, P McCabe, C Carey, G Thornbury, E Masterson, K Marmion, J Carty, S Fitzgerald.

BENETTON: L Sperandio; R Tavuyara, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi (capt), M Ioane; I McKinley, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, H Faiva, M Ricconi; I Herbst, A Zanni; M Lazzaroni, G Pettinelli, T Halafihi. Replacements: T Baravalle, D Appiah, T Pasquali, M Barbini, R Barbieri, G Bronzini, A Rizzi, T Iannone.

Referee: M Adamson (Scotland)

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