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Control key as Connacht bring big guns to Benetton

The western province are riding high in Conference B and ought to have plenty in reserve in Treviso.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE’S NO NEED to go making this interesting.

Benetton Rugby will kick off this evening’s Pro14 meeting against Connacht (kick-off 17.30, TG4) without a win to their name.

Connacht arrived in Italy last night with every right to feel they can still challenge Munster for top spot in Conference B. Yet the western province will be wary of opening up their stride too much lest this potential banana skin force them to look downward rather than up.

Control was a key element of the messages from the coaches’ room this week. Having forced their way to a home win over Cardiff Blues, there should be no doubt they can out-muscle an under-strength outfit in Treviso.

Conor Fitzgerald has been handed the reins at out-half for this one. His tactical kicking and the chase that follows will be a starting point for Connacht’s defence.

“Benetton’s biggest threat is coming out of their own half,” says defence coach Peter Wilkins.

“They’re dangerous running out of that bit of the field. They’re not afraid to take risks offloading out of the tackle when they come out of what we call their C Zone – between their 22 and halfway.

“They will take risks when they play to width. How we control them getting access to the ball then becomes really important.”

Control contains many facets, but Wilkins is targeting that ‘C zone’ for voracious scramble defence without the ball and security around the ruck when in possession.

“That’s important in denying them access to the game. If we we can squeeze them in that then we’d hope our quality can shine through.

But if the game becomes loose, chaotic turnover ball doesn’t suit us.

“So we’ll have to work our backsides off to make sure that if that does happen we can control it.”

If they can negate the home side’s threat, then the visitors appear to have all the firepower they need to make their own inroads in attack. There is no man more crucial on either side of the ball than Bundee Aki and after his measured role in the win over the Blues, the centre might just be in the mood to cut loose in Treviso to show the coaches down in Rome what they have chosen to do without.

Along with Aki, Kieran Marmion will be a steadying presence to the back-line while the in-form Alex Wootton and a Tiernan O’Halloran returning for a first start in two months will relish the prospect of open space to exploit.

Andy Friend’s side will have a solid platform with a pack led by Jarrad Butler, Finlay Bealham and Gavin Thornbury. The latter will also have a fellow ex-Leinster man to partner him in the second row as Oisin Dowling earns his first start for his adopted province after travails with a back injury.

Benetton won’t see much reprieve when the Westerners empty the bench either as the veteran Denis Buckley, John Porch, Caolin Blade and Jack Carty will deliver ample impact.

Before they arrive into the fray though, WIlkins hopes to see a continued aggression in Connacht’s defensive attitude.

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“We’ve tried to evolve a bit this season in terms of that line-speed and pressure we put on the opposition. I felt in my  first three years here we established a settled system, well connected and organised, pretty effective around the tackle. That’s fine for most opposition, but if you go away to Leinster or some of these European games you need a bit more than that.”

They likely won’t need the top gears today, but it would be nice to see them. Just to make sure this doesn’t get interesting.

Benetton Rugby: Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito, Joaquin Riera, Luca Morisi, Leonardo Sarto, Edoardo Padovani, Dewaldt Duvenage (CAPT), Thomas Gallo, Corniel Els, Ivan Nemer, Irné Herbst, Eli Snyman, Davide Ruggeri, Manuel Zuliani, Riccardo Favretto.

Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Nicola Quaglio, Zac Nearchou, Matteo Canali, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alberto Sgarbi, Luca Petrozzi, Ratuva Tavuyara.

Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Peter Sullivan, Tom Daly, Bundee Aki, Alex Wootton, Fitzgerald, Marmion, Paddy McAllister, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Dowling, Gavin Thornbury, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (CAPT), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Denis Buckley, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Niall Murray, Sean Masterson, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty, John Porch.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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