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Aki returns for Connacht’s Italian challenge

Guinness PRO14 Rugby Editor 24 Feb 2017

The Irish province are seeking their third consecutive league win after wins over Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons while the home side are looking for their first win in five.

What’s at stake?

A win for the Italian side could see them pull clear of rivals Zebre but a victory for the champions could see them leapfrog Cardiff Blues in seventh.

Benetton Treviso team news: With no fewer than eight players unavailable due to commitments with the national side, Kieran Crowley is using his whole squad for the visit of the champions.

Tommaso Allan, who starts for the Azzurri against England, is replaced by captain Alberto Sgarbi at inside centre. Half-backs Tito Tebaldi and Ian McKinley start as does dangerous winger Michael Tagicakibau.

Connacht team news: Head coach Pat Lam has made six changes from the side that was victorious over the Dragons in Round 15.

Bundee Aki returns to the midfield to partner Craig Ronaldson while scrum-half Caolin Blade plays in the absence of Kieran Marmion who is among Ireland’s replacements to play France.

In the pack, Shane Delahunt earns his third start at hooker flanked by props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham. And James Cannon comes into the second row to partner Ultan Dillane.

Talking points: 

Connacht head coach Pat Lam is aware of the threats Treviso pose, especially at home and stressed the importance of meticulous preparation ahead of their round 16 encounter.

He 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.”

Key battle: Ian McKinley v Jack Carty

While both fly-halves have been a constant fixture in their respective sides of late, both have changing centre combinations to contend with.

McKinley will play inside captain Alberto Sgarbi – a very different player to Tommaso Allan – who filled that role last time out.

While Carty will be pleased to have the running threat of Bundee Aki back in the 13 channel for the Irish province and will look to use him when the game opens up.

Key stat: Conancht have lost just one of their last six fixtures with Treviso, a 22-21 defeat in Italy in Round 21 of the Guinness PRO12 last season.

Did you know? Treviso’s most recent victory was a 23-12 win over rivals Zebre on December 23. Their only other home victory in the league this season was against Newport Gwent Dragons in round four.

Bennetton Treviso team to play Connacht: L Sperandio; M Tagicakibau, T Iannone, A Sgarbi, 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

Top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66pts Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4

Connacht team to play Bennetton Treviso: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B 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

Replacements: D Heffernan, JP Cooney, J Andress, Q Roux, N Dawai, J Cooney, T Farrell, S Ili

Top points scorer: Jack Carty 66pts Top try scorer: Niyi Adeolokun 4

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Treviso won 4, Connacht won 8 with 1 game drawn.

At Stadio Monigo, 1.30pm local time (12.30pm Ireland & UK).
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 57th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (WRU), Guiseppe Vivarini (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Marco Cordelli (FIR)

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

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O’Halloran seals bonus-point Connacht success in Treviso

Paul Eddison 26 Feb 2017

Connacht claimed an impressive bonus-point victory as they powered to a 34-19 success over Benetto Treviso at the Stadio Monigo.

Tiernan O’Halloran scored the bonus-point try on the hour as Connacht went 34-5 up, and despite two late tries from the home side, it was a comfortable victory for the Guinness PRO12 champions.

They made a quick start and took the lead on 15 minutes with a Craig Ronaldson penalty and he followed it with a second soon after to stretch the lead to 6-0.

Just before the half-hour they made the breakthrough with Caolin Blade slicing through after O’Halloran had initially put them in good position with a good run.

Ronaldson converted and was on target again four minutes later when Finlay Bealham had gone over. The tighthead showed his athleticism to sprint over from 30 metres out after a good break from Niyi Adeolokun.

Trailing 20-0, Treviso needed a response and got one from winger Andrea Buondonno. He went over on the left-hand side, although the conversion was off-target.

The second half started with Connacht still on top Jack Carty playing a delightful grubber through for Ronaldson to dot down. He converted his own score to make it 27-5.

And then it was the turn of O’Halloran on the hour who sealed the five points as he went over following some brilliant offloading by the forwards. Carty had taken over the kicking duties by this point and added the extras, but it was the home side who finished the stronger.

They closed out with two converted tries, the first coming from full-back Luca Sperandio who showed all his pace to sprint away and over the line. Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi added the extras for Benetton.

And then with five minutes remaining Andrea Pratichetti went over for a third Treviso try, with first-half try-scorer Buondonno converting.

The home side had five minutes remaining to grab a try bonus point of their own, but they couldn’t manage it as Connacht held out.

The win helps Connacht keep pace with Cardiff Blues, just three points above them in the table in what could be a tantalising race for Champions Cup rugby next season.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/fi

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