Connacht aim for Italian success

Captain, leader, father: Ballina man Gavin Duffy carries out his 18-month-old daughter Jessica onto the field last week before Connacht’s game with Ulster. Tonight Duffy and his team-mates will be away in Italy looking for league points.

Captain, leader, father: Ballina man Gavin Duffy carries out his 18-month-old daughter Jessica onto the field last week before Connacht’s game with Ulster. Tonight Duffy and his team-mates will be away in Italy looking for league points.

With European rugby taking centre stage this weekend, Connacht and Treviso are locked into a battle of their own in their refixed RaboDirect Pro 12 clash in Italy this evening. Both sides are still looking for their best league finish and, on this occasion, Treviso have the upper hand. They are currently in seventh place with 43 points, while Connacht are in ninth with 36 points. A win for Connacht would ensure they cannot be caught by Edinburgh, who, just four points behind, host the Dragons next week, while Eric Elwood’s side host a Glasgow outfit looking for a home-semi. “This is a huge game for both sides,” says Elwood. “ Treviso are going for their best finish and we can still improve on our league standing for a third year in a row, so there is a lot riding on this game. A win for either side would ensure we go into the last match with a huge incentive.”

Although rain showers are forecast for tonight, it is not expected to be anything like the heavy rain which fell in the Veneto over Easter, causing the game’s postponement. Elwood’s only headache is the possible loss of both centres, Eoin Griffin (head knock ) and Brian Murphy, who, with a knee injury, is the more likely to start. As a result Connacht have three extra players travelling, Matthew Jarvis, Tiernan O’Halloran, and Matt Healy, who, if needed, can expect to play out of position. With Robbie Henshaw also out of action with a dislocated thumb, captain Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran, or Matthew Jarvis could play at fullback, or in the centre.

“We have tried a couple of combinations in training this week, but as yet we are undecided until we know who is available,” says Elwood. On the back of a disappointing loss to Ulster last weekend, Elwood says Connacht’s defence needs to be on its game against a side that boasts a big pack and pacey backs.

“Although we scored two good tries against Ulster, we were disappointed that their first two tries were easy - it came down to numbers in defence and we will have work hard in that area again on Friday.”

Although the 34-18 loss to Ulster did not reflect Connacht’s competitiveness for 70 minutes, the league leaders were superior. With the luxury of bringing in Johan Muller and John Ofoa, Ulster had the edge up front, and their three-quarters too often found gaps in the Connacht defence. "Disappointed," said Elwood. “In the 71st minutes there were just four points in it. However, I felt their early scores were easy, and we lacked that intensity and urgency in our play. We knew we were playing quality opposition, but, as the home team, I thought we could come out faster.”

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