A PROVINCE turns its lonely eyes to Matthew Jarvis.
Following the latest dollop of end-game agony, when missed kicks handed victory to Leinster at the Sportsground, Connacht coach Eric Elwood is putting his faith in Welsh out-half Jarvis to steer them home against Aironi at the Stadio Zaffanella this afternoon (3.35).
Jarvis was good in general play against Leinster but had his problems off the tee. Nonetheless, despite a place-kicking success rate of only 41pc, he has kept Niall O'Connor (65pc) on the bench.
"We had a couple of good sessions with the kickers in the week but it is a work in progress," admitted Elwood.
"It is how those players react under the pressure of kicking a couple of penalties to win tight games. At the moment it's a delicate one because you do not know which one will give you that consistency."
He is hoping it is Jarvis, because after a run of 12 successive defeats, there is incredible pressure on Elwood's men heading into a clash they would normally be expected to win. Injuries have stretched an already underpowered squad, with Johnny O'Connor, Ronan Loughney, Eoin Griffin and Brian Tuohy among those on a long injured list.
There is the welcome return of Michael Swift to the second-row and Ray Ofisa to the bench, but Connacht are still limping into a contest against opponents who have clearly targeted this match as their own opportunity for a rare victory against Irish opponents.
"We need to win, even just 3-0, it doesn't matter," said centre Gabriel Pizarro. "We must play with the same anger we showed in the win against Treviso before Christmas."
That victory has infused the Italians with confidence and with Tyson Keats returning to scrum-half and the experience of Marco Bortolami, Josh Sole and Scott Favaro up front, they fancy the task.
Elwood needs Fetu Vainikolo to produce on the wing and welcomes Dave McSharry back to midfield but, most of all, he is desperate for results to match performance.
"I think it will be another bruiser. They are physical and uncompromising," said Elwood. "The level of performance (against Leinster) was excellent. We need to play at that level, even a step higher."
They also need to make their kicks. Do that, and Connacht's nightmare run could be ended.
AIRONI -- A Masi; G Toniolatti, R Quartaroli, G Pizarro, S Sinoti; L Orquera, T Keats; A de Marchi, R Santamaria, F Stabiano; J Furno, M Bortolami; N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole. Reps: T D'Apice, S Perugini, L Romano, Q Geldenhuys, M Bergamasco, T Tebaldi, N Olivier, A Benettin.
CONNACHT -- G Duffy; F Vainikolo, K Tonetti, D McSharry, T O'Halloran; M Jarvis, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, D Rogers; M Swift, M McCarthy; M Kearney, J Muldoon, G Naoupu. Reps: E Reynecke, D Buckley, S Maguire, E McKeon, R Ofisa, P O'Donohoe, N O'Connor, H Fa'afili.
REF -- A McMenemy (Scotland).
Aironi v Connacht,
Live, TG4, 3.35