Connacht can deliver vital victory to get season back on right track
CONNACHT go into tonight's Pro12 clash with Treviso in dire need of a win. That might seem extreme, given the positive glow of their Heineken Cup debut, their early season form and the emergence of some talented Irish players.
But the westerners have lost seven games in a row and face a potentially punishing December.
After the Italians, Eric Elwood's men face Gloucester twice in the Heineken Cup, before they play Munster on St Stephen's Day and Leinster on New Years Day.
As a result, Treviso at home has taken on extra importance in Galway. A win is far from a foregone conclusion against a team who have started their season better than Connacht .
Tonight's visitors are currently four points ahead of the Irish team. They won their last two games away from home -- against Ulster and Glasgow -- and remain hard to beat at home.
As well as their league form, they have drawn one of their two European games, at home to the Ospreys, something Connacht have yet to achieve.
Given the traditional strengths of Italian rugby, it's no surprise that Elwood has named a meaty pack.
George Naoupu remains in the second-row and Dave Gannon moves back to six to accommodate Michael Swift. Ethienne Reynecke replaces Adrian Flavin as hooker, with Ronan Loughney coming in for Rodney Ah You.
Out wide, Mark McCrea replaces Brian Tuohy, while Kyle Tonetti makes his first start alongside Dave McSharry in the centre. Niall O'Connor and Frank Murphy get the nod at half-back.
Leinster showed the way for Connacht last weekend when they went to the Stade Comunale di Monigo and won 30-20, a result which slowed the momentum that Franco Smith's charges had built up when they nearly beat the Ospreys the previous week.
The Neath-Swansea side's victory out west last weekend was achieved in ridiculously windy conditions, but that is something that shouldn't affect Connacht, who failed to take advantage of their possession. Elwood pointed to needless errors, while some suspect defending allowed the Welsh side through for key tries.
There was plenty to build on, however, and if Gannon can have another immaculate game, the hosts will have a platform to work on.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); M McCrea, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; N O'Connor, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, E Reynecke, R Loughney; M Swift, G Naoupu; D Gannon, J Muldoon, R Ofisa. Reps: A Flavin, D Buckley, R Ah You, M Kearney, E Grace, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, F Vainikolo.
TREVISO -- L NItoglia; T Iannone, E Galon, A Pratichetti, B Williams; W De Waal, F Semenzato; M Rizzo (capt), F Sbaraglini, IF Rouyet; F Minto, B Vermaak; M Vosawai, P Derbyshire, M Filippucci. Reps: D Vidal, M Muccignat, L Cittadini, C Van Zyl, V Bernabo, G Padro, E Gori, K Burton.
REF -- N Hennessy (WRU).
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