Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins admits that the province are now treating every game as a cup final as they try to catch Munster at the top of Guinness PRO14’s Conference B.
Connacht have four games remaining — including next weekend’s crunch derby with Munster — and a win in Treviso on Friday night is a must as they attempt to close the nine-point gap to Johann van Graan’s side.
The 11th-hour addition of Bundee Aki to the team following his release from international camp indicates the importance of the fixture, and defence coach Wilkins knows defeat in Italy is simply not an option for his side.
“We’ve not put a hard goal on it in terms of points or expected points,” said Wilkins.
“But we have been really open with each other in saying that every game is a must-win and that every game is a cup final.
“If it does go down [due to coronavirus], there’s only the one conference winner that goes through to a final, then we’re trying to hunt Munster down. Every game is a must-win, and bonus points play an important part in that.”
After training with Ireland all week, Aki has parachuted straight into the Connacht centre as he renews last weekend’s partnership with Tom Daly. Andy Friend has also handed a first start to former Leinster lock Oisin Dowling, while Jack Carty, Denis Buckley, Caolin Blade, and John Porch are in reserve.
Benetton have not won any of their 11 PRO14 games this season, but they can consider themselves unlucky to lose to a last-minute drop goal when Munster visited there recently. Wilkins is wary of their threats, despite them being without 22 players due to injury and international duty.
“Benetton’s biggest threat is coming out of their own half,” said Wilkins.
“But they are also very dangerous running from that bit of the field. They are not afraid to take risks and offload out of the tackle, they are a significant threat.”
J Hayward; A Esposito, J Riera, L Morisi, L Sarto; E Padovani, D Duvenage (c); T Gallo, C Els, I Nemer; I Herbst, E Snyman; D Ruggeri, M Zuliani, R Favretto.
T Baravalle, N Quaglio, Z Nearchou, M Canali, G Pettinelli, A Sgarbi, L Petrozzi, R Tavuyara.
T O’Halloran; P Sullivan, T Daly, B Aki, A Wootton; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion; P McAllister, S Delahunt, F Bealham; O Dowling, G Thornbury; E Masterson, J Butler (c), P Boyle.
J Murphy, D Buckley, D Robertson-McCoy, N Murray, S Masterson, C Blade, J Carty, J Porch.