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Buckley can leave mark on memorable campaign

THERE isn't much at stake at the Sportsgrounds this evening, but Connacht coach Eric Elwood is hoping to guide his side to three wins in a row for the first time since season 2002-03.

In the post-Twickenham environment, there is good news for the future of Irish propping as the promising Denis Buckley gets his second start against a tough-looking Italian front-row.

Brett Wilkinson's absence means man-mountain 22-year-old Stewart Maguire gets an all-too-rare appearance on the bench, and the former Old Belvedere AIL medal winner should see some valuable action.

Buckley's introduction is the only change from the Connacht team that scored some excellent tries against Ulster.

Tiernan O'Halloran's try-scoring ability on the right wing saw him training with the Six Nations squad and he could be an outside bet for the tour to New Zealand.


Ray Ofisa and Henry Fa'afili play their last matches at the venue before departing for pastures new, while the local lads will be pushing for a final win to salute the crowd after a memorable season that saw the province taste Heineken Cup rugby for the first time.

Aironi have won only four games this season, their most recent coming against Munster last month, and they pushed the Scarlets hard before coming up short last week. They beat Connacht in Italy back in January, but have not won an away game this campaign, and it would be poor if the hosts allowed them through this evening.

It seems unlikely -- only Munster have won at the Sportsgrounds in Connacht's last five home games.

Verdict: Connacht

CONNACHT -- G Duffy (capt); T O'Halloran, K Tonetti, H Fa'afili, F Vainikolo; M Nikora, F Murphy; D Buckley, E Reynecke, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; J Muldoon, R Ofisa, G Naoupu. Reps: A Flavin, S Maguire, R Ah You, M Kearney, J O'Connor, P O'Donohoe, M Jarvis, E Griffin.

AIRONI -- T Tebaldi; G Toniolatti, S Sinoti, M Pratichetti, G Venditti; L Orquera, T Keats; M Aguero, F Ongaro, L Romano; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami (capt); N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole. Reps: T D'Apice, A De Marchi, L Redolfini, J Furno, N Williams, N Olivier, G Pavan, P Buso.

REF -- I Davies (WRU).

Irish Independent