A decade on from making his Connacht debut away to Benetton, Denis Buckley returns to Stadio di Monigo this weekend in what would be his 200th appearance for the province.

The 30-year-old is set to become just the third Connacht man to reach the milestone after Michael Swift (269) and John Muldoon (327) when the Italians host Andy Friend's side in the Guinness Pro 14 Rainbow Cup clash.

The Roscommon native, who was part of the team that landed the Pro12 title under Pat Lam in 2016, is geared towards backing up the recent win over Munster at Thomond Park, but is aware of his own personal achievement and journey.

Indeed it was a journey that arguably began in his formative years after creative thinking on his part.

The young Connacht fan wrote a letter to the then manager John Fallon to see if he could lead his heroes out at the Sportsground, and as he told RTÉ Sport, it was a treasured memory at the time.

Buckley in action for Connacht in 2012

"I remember it well. Eric Elwood was captain that day and I walked out with him," he said. "I was a big rugby fan from an early age. Being from Connacht, I was a big Connacht fan.

"I got to walk out with the team as a mascot and it was a pretty big occasion at the time."

While the Italians lost all 16 of their regular season games, they have found a new lease of life in the Rainbow Cup, winning all three of their games to date, sweeping aside Glasgow 46-19 and completing the double over Zebre.

We need to get five points this weekend

Earlier this season a Bundee Aki try at the death secured a 19-17 win over Kieran Crowley’s outfit, and the centre’s return after an eight-week absence is a timely one given the need for a win to keep alive any chance of making the final with just two games remaining.

"We know that we need to win, and if we get two wins we are in a great position, but it is still a little bit out of our hands, but we can’t look too far ahead.

"We need to get five points this weekend."

Connacht attack coach Pete Wilkins earlier this week warned his players that they will need to maintain the standards set in their win over Munster to avoid defeat in Italy.

Connacht defence coach Pete Wilkins

"They would be disappointed with where they finished in the conference and results-wise (in the Pro14) but they've got their act together and played some really exciting rugby as well.

"The capacity to play has always been there. They are a threat and we'll have to be on our mettle in order to deliver.

"It's one thing going away to Munster and knowing you need to front up physically and mentally in defence… and another being able to generate that with a bit more intrinsic motivation going away to Italy.

"It will be required. They are playing well and have found some form."

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