Thursday 18 January 2018

Connacht face test of mettle

Hugh Farrelly

CONNACHT have the opportunity to maintain an elevated Magners League status, above their customary basement position, this afternoon when, as well as a collective desire, there will be strong individual motivation on show against Aironi at the Stadio Zaffanella (4.30).

Hooker Sean Cronin returns to provincial duty after a Six Nations of bit-part performances behind Rory Best and he has plenty of pent-up energy to unleash on the Italians, while, on either side of him, Brett Wilkinson and Jamie Hagan both have designs on a propping berth for Ireland's World Cup odyssey.

In addition, John Muldoon is making his way back after long-term injury and will be desperate to make an impact off the bench.

With a near full-strength side at his disposal, coach Eric Elwood will look to repeat Connacht's 11-6 victory at the Sportsground a few weeks ago against a team who have six losing bonus points but are yet to record a win in the competition.

However, Connacht have lost on their two previous visits to Italy, against Prato and Treviso, this season and will have been lined up by an Aironi side with access to a host of Italian internationals.

"Everybody realises Aironi are making gains and it's only a matter of time," said Elwood. "Now we are their next visitors, it's a home game for them and their internationals are back on duty -- yes, they will be targeting us. Because the game was so close in Galway, they will say, 'yes, it's a big opportunity'."

It just might be enough to get the home team their first league win, but Connacht have the players and determination to make it a hell of a battle and should return with a losing bonus point at the very least.

Verdict: Aironi

AIRONI -- G Rubini; K Robertson, M Pratichetti, G Pizarro, D Demas; J Marshall, T Tebaldi; A de Marchi, R Santamaria, F Staibano; J Fumo, M Bortolami (capt); J Sole, G Krause, N Williams. Reps: F Ongaro, A De Marchi, L Redolfini, G Biagi, N Cattina, P Canavosio, R Bocchino, H San Martin.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; B Tuohy, N Ta'auso, T Nathan, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, M McCarthy; A Browne, J O'Connor (capt), R Ofisa. Reps: A Flavin, R Loughney, R Ah You, B Upton, J Muldoon, C Willis, K Matthews, S Monahan.

REF -- N Hennessy (WRU).

Irish Independent

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