Cardiff Blues host Benetton Treviso at BT Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday February 18 at 2.30pm in round 15 of the Guinness PRO12.
Both sides will be looking to bounce back from round 14 defeats, the Blues lost narrowly at home to Connacht while Treviso were beaten by Leinster Rugby.
What’s at stake? The Blues trail sixth-placed Ulster Rugby by ten points and could close the gap on their Irish rivals with a win while Treviso could edge further ahead of bottom-placed Zebre Rugby.
Cardiff Blues team news: Head coach Danny Wilson has made five changes to the side that lost at home to Connacht in round 14. The Blues are boosted by the return of Alex Cutbert, Steve Shingler and George Earle from international duty, injury and suspension respectively. Taufa’ao Filise starts at loosehead and flanker Sion Bennett makes his first start for the region on the open side.
Benetton Treviso team news: Head coach Kieran Crowley has been forced into several changes due to players being unavailable through injury and international commitments. Tommaso Allan and Tommaso Iannone combine in the midfield while Ian McKinley is at ten and Tito Tebaldi at scrum-half.
Talking points: Opposing wingers Alex Cuthbert and Angelo Esposito have both been sent back to their clubs following round two of the RBS 6 Nations to gain valuable match time. Both men will be looking put in big performances to play their way into their national sides for next weekend’s fixtures.
Key battle: Gareth Anscombe v Ian McKinley
Anscombe and McKinley will both be helped by their ball-playing inside centres during Saturday’s clash. Both Steve Shingler of the Blues and Tommaso Allan of Treviso have worn the ten jersey on a number of occasions and their communication will be invaluable.
But, the game will surely be swung on how well the fly-halves utilise their back divisions. Anscombe has the dangerous Alex Cuthbert and Matthew Morgan in the back three at his disposal.
Meanwhile McKinley can look to use returning Italian international Esposito and Michael Tagicakibau to cause the Blues some problems.
Key stat: The Blues are yet to win a PRO12 fixture in 2017, their last victory came on December 26 2016, a 27-16 victory against the Dragons.
Did you know? Treviso have won just two league games this term beating the Dragons and compatriots Zebre Rugby. Their last meeting with the Blues saw them gain a losing bonus point after a 34-28 defeat at home.
Cardiff Blues: M Morgan, A Cuthbert, W Halaholo, S Shingler, B Scully, G Anscombe, L Williams, R Gill, K Dacey, T Filise, G Earle, J Hoeata, M Cook, S Bennett, N Williams.
Replacements: M Rees, C Domachowski, S Andrews, J Down, K Myhill, T Williams, G Smith, T James.
Top points scorer: Steve Shingler 84pts Top try scorer: Tom James 6
Benetton Treviso: L Sperandio, M Tagicakibau, T Iannone, T Allan, A Esposito, I McKinley T Tebaldi, F Zani, L Bigi, T Pasquali; T Paulo, D Budd, M Lazzaroni, F Minto, R Barbieri.
Replacements: D Giazzon, M Zanusso, J Rossetto, J Montauriol, G Zanini, G Bronzini, A Pratichetti, D Odiete.
Top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66pts Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Blues won 9, Treviso won 3 with 1 game drawn.
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 2.30pm
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 60th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), Gareth Newman (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Paul Thomas (WRU)
Matthew Morgan starred as Cardiff Blues secured their first Guinness PRO12 victory since Boxing Day with a handsome 57-20 win against Benetton Treviso.
An early Nick Williams try gave Cardiff control but Treviso impressed in the first half and even led when Ian McKinley scored, before the Blues ran riot after the break.
Three quick-fire tries killed off any hope of a Treviso shock, with Morgan playing a pivotal role in tries for Steven Shingler and Kristian Dacey.
And further scores for Willis Halaholo, Morgan and Alex Cuthbert completed a perfect response to three consecutive league defeats.
TRY! To say he deserved that would be an understatement pic.twitter.com/JqhzOo1lNw
— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) February 18, 2017
Cardiff made several changes to their side from their 19-13 loss at Connacht last weekend, with winger Cuthbert back after returning from international duty with Wales, and Steven Shingler, who scored 19 points in the Blues 34-28 win earlier this season, in at centre.
And Danny Wilson’s men got off to a flying start as Lloyd Williams made ground and No.8 Nick Williams burst through a gaping hole in Treviso’s defence to power over from 30 metres.
However, the Italian side refused to roll over despite that early set-back and responded through two Tito Tebaldi penalties.
Treviso improved as the half went on, remaining strong in defence and showing variety in attack but Shingler extended the Blues’ lead with a calm penalty.
However, Treviso’s pressure soon told as scrum-half Tebaldi took a quick free-kick and fed Irish fly-half McKinley to dot down.
Cardiff hit back just before the break though as Gareth Anscombe showed nice hands as he drew in two defenders and released Blaine Scully for a try just a minute before the break.
— Mark Davies (@MarkRobDavies) February 18, 2017
And just a minute into the second period Cardiff pulled clear as Morgan made a break from inside his own half and fed Lloyd Williams, who then released Shingler to score.
Cardiff were clearly playing with an added purpose and Treviso struggled to live with their pace and relentless aggression, as Sion Bennett confirmed a bonus point on his first start for the club with a simple finish after Shingler cut through Treviso’s backline.
But it was Morgan who wreaked the most havoc in the loose and the inspired full-back set off on another surging run before slipping a perfect pass for hooker Kristian Dacey to go over under the posts.
Treviso, shell-shocked after enjoying themselves in the first half, took a while to hit back but Angelo Esposito crossed in the corner to cut the deficit.
But Blues supporters were cheering again shortly after as Cuthbert burst impressively down the right and set up Halaholo to score, and Morgan scored a well-deserved try of his own just before the hour mark.
And the biggest shout of the afternoon followed minutes before the end as Cuthbert scored Cardiff’s eighth try to round off a perfect afternoon.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final