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Connacht Rugby visit Benetton Rugby in the EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16 on Saturday as they bid to reach a first EPCR quarter-final since 2019.
The Irish province head to Treviso after finishing fifth in Pool A, with a Round 4 defeat at Newcastle Falcons (35-21) scuppering their hopes of home advantage in the first round of knockout stage games.
Connacht are bolstered by the return of Ireland centre Bundee Aki, who has not played for them since December, while Benetton have a large contingent of Italy internationals back at their disposal.
The hosts are set to be tricky opponents, having also won three games from four in the pool stage to finish second in Pool B following an impressive Round 4 triumph over Stade Français Paris.
The game at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo kicks off at 15:00 (UK & Irish time) and can be watched live on beIN SPORTS, epcrugby.tv and FloRugby.
𝔾𝔸𝕄𝔼 𝕎𝔼𝔼𝕂 👊
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) March 27, 2023
Connacht Rugby head coach Pete Wilkins: “It will be a big challenge. They have a lot of returning Italian internationals and they are a team that thrives at home, but it’s a game we feel we can win.”
- Tomás Albornoz made three try assists against Stade Français Paris in Round 4 – the most in a single EPCR Challenge Cup match this season. However, Albornoz also missed a round-high five tackles.
- Giacomo Nicotera threw 17 successful lineouts in Round 4 – as many as any other player.
- Michele Lamaro has made the most tackles in the tournament (54).
- Finlay Bealham was the only player to score a hat-trick in Round 4. This was only the 10th time a Connacht player has scored three tries in an EPCR match and the first time a forward has done so.
- Josh Murphy has stolen a competition-high five lineouts so far this season.
- Connacht have made more carries than any other team (500), an average of 125 per 80 minutes. However, their rate of carry dominance is 19% – below the competition average of 21%.
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Connacht Rugby exited the EPCR Challenge Cup at the Round of 16 stage following a 41-19 defeat at the hands of Benetton Rugby at the Stadio Comunale di Mongio on Saturday afternoon.
Conor Oliver and John Porch had given the Irish province a 12-0 lead early in the contest before their Italian hosts ran rampant with six tries – Marcus Watson (2), Edouardo Padavoni (2), Rhyno Smith and Federico Ruzza crossing the whitewash.
Wing Porch did add a consolation third for Connacht midway through the second-half, but it is Benetton who advance to the quarter-finals on the back of a breathtaking performance.
Connacht opened the scoring on 13 minutes, a line break from Porch set up the move as the visitors rattled through the phases, building pressure on the Benetton defense. Flanker Oliver was the man to breach the defense to cross in the corner.
A second try followed four minutes later as the Irish province sustained a period of territorial domination. Scrum-half Caolin Blade broke the line before offloading to Porch who dotted down, David Hackshaw adding the extras to give the visitors a 12-0 lead.
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) April 1, 2023
Benetton replied with a try of their own midway through the first-half. Wing Watson rushed on to a wonderful pass from Tommaso Menoncello to score from just outside the Connacht 22 – Jacob Umaga notching the extras, the first of four conversions for the fly-half.
The Italians took the lead with their second try of the contest. Benetton swiftly moved the ball from left to right on the back of a penalty advantage, allowing full-back Smith to power through a would-be tackler and across the whitewash.
A third try followed five minutes before the interval. The hosts, dominating possession, advanced deep into Connacht territory and switched play to the right flank, wing Padovani finishing well.
Padovani was back on the scoresheet just six minutes into the second-half – scoring his second try of the afternoon and Benetton’s fourth – as the hosts opened their lead to 26-12.
Seven minutes later the lead was extended once more, Watson adding his second try as the Italians romped towards the quarter-finals.
The Irish province would not give up the ghost, however, and notched their third try as Porch crossed the whitewash for his second try following a break by Mack Hanson, reducing arrears to 33-19.
The hope lasted a mere five minutes as Ruzza dotted down for Benetton’s sixth try of the contest just after the hour mark.