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Connacht are playing Benetton on Saturday at the Sportsground, there is a huge family crowd expected for the afternoon kick off, let’s hope Connacht will give the young fans a big win.
I get the feeling most Connacht fans are apprehensive after a very average first eight games.
But the statistics suggest that Connacht fans should not be worried. Benetton have won just once on the road in the URC in the last eighteen months: 39-14 against Zebre in Parma on St. Stephens day last year. Historically, Benetton do not enjoy much success against the Irish provinces either.
Benetton have only won one game out of their previous twenty-one games against Irish opposition. Of course, that was against Connacht in May of 2021.
You have to go all the way back to 2011 for when Benetton had their only victory in Galway. They won 15-13 that day but have lost the nine other appearances in the West of Ireland. The data and history would suggest that this Saturday will only result in a win for Connacht. So why are Connacht fans feeling uneasy?
Well Benetton currently sit eight on the league table. They have four wins from eight games. They have scored thirty-one more points over the opening eight games than Connacht too. They also have one more losing bonus point than Connacht also. All of these stats look good for Benetton but when you look closer, I think they do not tell the full story.
Benetton have a point difference of minus seventy-six. Which is thirty points worse than Connacht. When they lose, they tend to lose big. Edinburgh beat them by forty-five points, Glasgow kept them scoreless and put thirty-seven on them, the Bulls bet them by twenty-two and Leinster beat them by thirty-two. The flood gates can open if you get the advantage over Benetton and Connacht will be looking to exploit that.
Benetton have had some good wins mixed in with the big losses. They actually defeated Glasgow on the opening day and last week defeated Edinburgh who two weeks previously kept them scoreless. That was an Edinburgh team without their international stars but still a good win.
What I want from Connacht:
I think Connacht will have too much for Benetton this weekend. They have no major injury concerns and last weeks battle should have them back in a rhythm after the few weeks off. I want to see some confidence from this team. I would love to see a huge attacking day from the lads. This attack has been a sleeping giant in my opinion and this weekend could be the day we see it wake up. They know if they start well and get a score or two up early then Benetton are more than likely going to concede more. We have seen that over the opening eight games.
Discipline and focus is another area where I want to see Connacht dominate.
Connacht fans are getting tired of seeing simple errors that kill momentum.
Taking one step forward and then two steps
back. Restarts in general have been poor for a long time now In Connacht and they need to be cleaned up. This weekend Andy Friend and Pete Wilkins will be driving home that if they cut out simple errors, then there is a big result waiting for them come 5pm on Saturday evening.
This game is hugely important for the rest of Connacht’s season. A win this weekend and you go into the two-week European spell full of confidence and belief that you can actually go and win that competition. A win this weekend and it takes some pressure off the InterPro’s at Christmas and the new year. Those two games with Ulster and Leinster are realistically games you can’t be expecting big points from. Those are games that if you steal a few losing bonus points or even better steal a win, then it’s a huge bonus.
Connacht’s schedule from February is the easier side of the season.
It is very possible that they could go on a run and move up the table, but they need to be in a position to do that come February. Quite frankly, if you lose at home to Benetton then you don’t deserve to be in the top eight and that’s the hard facts.
If Connacht are to make some moves in the new year, then a win this Saturday is where it starts.
Mack Hansen is one of six changes to the side that started against Munster last week, with Niall Murray, Oisín Dowling, Paul Boyle, Kieran Marmion and Diarmuid Kilgallen all coming into the squad.
The experienced front row of Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham is unchanged, while Murray and Dowling make up the lock pairing. Paul comes in at number 8 with Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver retained on the flanks.
Captain Jack Carty is named alongside Marmion while the centre pairing of Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell is unchanged. Hansen starts on the left wing, with John Porch at full-back and Kilgallen on the right wing for his first appearance of the season.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Last weekend was another frustrating performance for various reasons, and whilst our intent and attitude were excellent, the bottom line was that we didn’t deliver our best performance. That said, I was pleased with the way the players dug out a bonus point which could be crucial at the end of the season.
Tomorrow we’re back at the Sportsground against a very confident Benetton team. If we wish to be the victors at the end of 80 minutes, we must bring a level of energy and physicality that we know that we’re capable of for the full game. We are a team that is creating plenty of opportunities, we just need to be better at capitalising on those.”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS BENETTON RUGBY
Saturday 3rd December, 15:15 @ The Sportsground
15. John Porch (67)
14. Diarmuid Kilgallen (8)
13. Tom Farrell (84)
12. Bundee Aki (120)
11. Mack Hansen (19)
10. Jack Carty (185) (C)
9. Kieran Marmion (216)
1. Denis Buckley (216)
2. Dave Heffernan (172)
3. Finlay Bealham (180)
4. Oisín Dowling (32)
5. Niall Murray (41)
6. Cian Prendergast (34)
7. Conor Oliver (48)
8. Paul Boyle (80)
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (10)
17. Peter Dooley (6)
18. Jack Aungier (39)
19. Gavin Thornbury (69)
20. Jarrad Butler (101)
21. Caolin Blade (155)
22. Tom Daly (65)
23. Tiernan O’Halloran (209)
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