Marmion landmark as Connacht eye loftier perch
CONNACHT go in search of a third successive win this evening (5.00) as they eye a further move up the RaboDirect Pro12 table.
Victories over Edinburgh and Zebre have lifted Pat Lam's side into 10th and another win – over Treviso at the Sportsground – could lift them into contention for seventh place, something that could attain major significance whenever the European mess is sorted out and the path into next year's competitions becomes clear.
The Westerners won't be thinking about that just yet, however, with the chance to put a rare sequence of wins together a carrot in itself.
After spending the second half of the week running Brian O'Driscoll's lines at Ireland training in Belfast, Robbie Henshaw starts at full-back, with London Irish-bound Eoin Griffin in the No 13 jersey alongside Dave McSharry.
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion (22) marks his 50th appearance in green with a start, in what will also be his 50th consecutive game for the province – something that impresses his coach.
"It's such a great achievement for young Kieran to have reached the 50 cap milestone," said Lam. "The fact that he has played 50 consecutive games since his senior debut is testament to his ability, his durability and his sheer toughness."
Marmion's delivery and eye for a break will be key to unlocking the Treviso defence, and he and Dan Parks will look to put early pressure on the Italians, who have won just once since they beat Connacht at home in October.
Lam is urging his players to keep their heads, however, against a team who have provided a stern test for Connacht in the past. "This week has been all about focus. Coming off the back of two wins, we understand what we need to do ourselves to make it three-in-a-row," he said.
"Against Ulster last week and also when we played them in October, Treviso showed what they're made of and the type of challenge they present. Going into the break we want to finish off this block of games on a high."
CONNACHT – R Henshaw; T O'Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You; A Muldowney, M Kearney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, E McKeon. Reps: D Heffernan, F Bealham, N White, M Swift, A Browne, F Murphy, M Nikora, D Poolman.
TREVISO – A Esposito; L Nitoglia, A Sgarbi, J van Niekerk, A Pratichetti; M Berquist, T Botes; M Muccignat, G Maistri, L Cittadini; A Pavanello (capt), C Van Zyl; M Vosawai, P Derbyshire, M Filipucci. Reps: F Sbaraglini, R Acosta, I Fernandez-Rouyet, M Fuser, V Bernabo, R Barbieri, F Semenzato, B Williams.
Ref – L Hodges (WRU)