Connacht on the verge of semi-final spot

Connacht need only one point from this evening’s PRO12 fixture in Italy to guarantee a semi-final spot. But coach Pat Lam will want more, such is the expectation on Connacht to deliver a bonus-point winning performance.

New targets have been set after the province qualified for Champions Cup rugby on their own merit for the first time when seeing off Munster two weeks ago. No longer content with that milestone, Lam and co are are now targeting a home semi-final with a view to winning silverware.

“We sat down as a group and all agreed we want to win the PRO12. It is now a realistic ambition,” said Lam. Treviso, fighting with Zebre for the automatic Italian spot in Europe, will not make it easy.

With an eye on the Glasgow match at the Sportsground next Saturday, Lam has made 10 personnel changes. Jack Carty makes his first start at out-half since his spleen removal operation, and Aj MacGinty is named on the bench. Tiernan O’Halloran returns from injury to full-back and Lam has put his faith in academy midfielders, Peter Robb and Rory Parata, with Robbie Henshaw on the bench. Niyi Adeolokun and Fionn Carr are on the wings, with John Cooney taking over from Kieran Marmion at scrum-half.

With both Nathan White and Denis Buckley sidelined, Lam has named Ronan Loughney and Rodney Ah You to scrum down with Tom McCartney, who takes over the captaincy from John Muldoon, who is named on the bench. Quinn Roux partners Andrew Browne in the second row, while openside Jake Heenan returns from injury to join Sean O’Brien and Eoin McKeon in the back row.

“With some players returning and unfortunately losing a few others to injury [Matt Healy suffered a minor back injury], we see a much-changed team,” said Lam. “But the expectation remains that those selected have a responsibility to execute their roles and work hard for the team.”

This is a big test for some of Connacht’s youngsters - both mentally and physically - but they should deliver.

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, R Parata, P Robb, F Carr, J Carty J Cooney, R Loughney, T McCartney (cpt),R Ah You, Q Roux, A Browne, S O’Brien, J Heenan, E McKeon. Replacements, D Heffernan, JP Cooney, F Bealham, A Muldowney, J Muldoon, C Blade, A MacGinty, R Henshaw.

BENNETON TREVISO:

J Hayward, A Esposito, L Morisi, A Sgarbi (cpt), L Nitoglia, S Christie, E Gori, M Zanusso, O Gega, S Ferrari, F Paulo, T Palmer, F Minto, A Zanni. A Steyn. Replacements, D Giazzon, C Traore, S Manu, M Fuser, M Lazzaroni, A Lucchese, L McLean, T Iannone.

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