Connacht host Benetton Rugby at the Sportsground this evening hoping for a victory to keep their PRO14 play-off ambitions on track.
The 2015-16 league champions are third in Conference A with just four rounds remaining in the regular season.
There are three changes, with Ireland international Ultan Dillane starting and, while they will be without fellow Irish internationals Bundee Aki and Quinn Roux, coach Andy Friend welcomes back Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion, who were both held in reserve by Joe Schmidt.
“You’ve just got to look at Benetton’s stats, the quality they’ve got. They’re second on that ladder and it’s a competitive table,” said Friend.
“We’ve had some good performances this year and we’ve managed to get our fair share of wins, but we’d like a few more. All eyes are on this one. We know what we’ve got to do and we know if we keep winning we’ll remain in control of our destiny.”
There are two changes to the backline after the 46-5 defeat of Ospreys at the Sportsground three weeks ago — Darragh Leader starts on the right wing, while Caolin Blade takes Marmion’s slot at scrum-half.
Benetton are enjoying their best ever season and have already won 10 games in this PRO14 campaign.
Head coach Kieran Crowley can call on six of the Italian Six Nations squad to start this evening.
Lock Alessandro Zanni featured against France last weekend, full-back Luca Sperandio and out-half Ian McKinley were unused replacements in Rome. Tommaso Benvenuti, Nicola Quaglio and Marco Riccioni are also included.
“It’s a must-win,” said Friend. Hopefully we have got 10 games left, but that’s where we’re at. We’re at that stage of the season and it’s really important for us to get another win and a good performance.
“I was really pleased with the boys against Ospreys, but we’ve had a chunk of time off and we’ve come back and it’s important that we pick up where we left off. There is a lot more to Benetton’s game now.
They’ve got the physicality up front, but they’ve also got the skill-set. They have been scoring lots of tries, have a good kicking game, can punch through the middle and offload too. There is a lot to their game, they have been very impressive this year.
T O’Halloran; D Leader, T Farrell, P Robb, M Healy; K Godwin, C Blade; D Buckley, S Delahunt, F Bealham; U Dillane, J Cannon; E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler.
T McCartney, P McCabe, C Carey, G Thornbury, E Masterson, K Marmion, J Carty, S Fitzgerald.
L Sperandio; R Tavuyara, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, M Ioane; I McKinley, D Duvenage; N Quaglio, H Faiva, M Riccioni; I Herbst, A Zanni; M Lazzaroni, G Pettinelli, T Halafihi.
T Baravalle, D Appiah, T Pasquali, M Barbini, R Barbieri, G Bronzini, A Rizzi, T Iannone.