Wednesday 23 October 2019

Keatley will be aiming to outfox Connacht

Ian Keatley. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Keatley. Photo: Sportsfile

Des Berry

Connacht will have to be wary of a much-improved Benetton at the Sportsground this evening (7.35).

The Italians will be loath to recede to the shadows of the PRO14 after taking such significant strides forward last season under Kieran Crowley.

They could have, not should have, beaten Leinster with 14 men last week and will have no hesitation in going toe-to-toe with the Westerners.

Connacht coach Andy Friend has made three changes from the narrow loss to the Scarlets in a bid for immediate redemption.

It doesn't take much more than losing the first two rounds to trigger a sense of uncertainty.

Wing Darragh Leader, centre Peter Robb and number eight Paul Boyle will be eager to make a statement on their first chance to shine.

Crowley makes one more alteration than Friend, full-back Luca Sperandio, wing Leonardo Sarto, back from Leicester Tigers, second row Niccolo Cannone and flanker Giovanni Pettinelli lending their weight to the argument.

Benetton have sown enough progress in previous seasons to travel with more than hope.

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Of course, Ian Keatley will know every blade of grass on the pitch and nuance of the devilish wind that often whips in from Galway Bay, not to mention the sideways rain.

"There is huge anticipation among the squad for our first home game of the season," said Friend.

"We have set some really ambitious targets for the season ahead, particularly around our home form.

"A packed Sportsground is a very difficult place for away teams to come and I expect a great atmosphere."

Certainly, it should be a wonderful occasion for the Masterson family, with Eoghan at blindside and Sean set for his debut from the bench.

Verdict: Connacht

CONNACHT - T O'Halloran; D Leader, K Godwin, P Robb, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; P McAllister, T McCartney, F Bealham, G Thornbury, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler (capt), P Boyle. Reps: S Delahunt, D Buckley, D Robertson-McCoy, U Dillane, S Masterson, K Marmion, T Farrell, S Fitzgerald.

BENETTON - L Sperandio; L Sarto, J Riera, A Sgarbi (capt), M Ioane, I Keatley, L Petrozzi; D Appiah, T Baravalle, M Parri, N Cannone, E Snyman, M Lazzaroni, G Pettinelli, T Halafihi. Reps: E Makelara, C Traore, F Alongi, M Fuser, L Manni C Trussardi, I McKinley, I Brex.

Connacht v Benetton,

Live, TG4, 7.35

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