Two teams in contrasting form meet at Monigo Stadium on Saturday as Benetton Rugby host Leinster.
The hosts have not won in the Guinness PRO14 since October and are on a three-match losing run, while Leinster blew Dragons away last week to move second in Conference B.
With a bolstered squad and momentum behind them, the Irish side will be confident but Benetton remain one of the toughest away games in the league making this an intriguing battle.
What’s at stake? Scarlets remain out of reach for Leinster in Conference B, with the champions racing to eight wins from nine and pulling seven points clear.
But Leo Cullen’s men are breathing down their neck and will look to consolidate their place in the top four against the side currently in fifth.
Benetton have won three of their nine league matches and sit eight points off fourth-placed Edinburgh Rugby but, with back-to-back games against Zebre Rugby on the horizon, a win here could transform their prospects.
Team news (Benneton Rugby): Benetton have made two changes from the side which narrowly lost at Ulster. Marty Banks starts ahead of winger Andrea Bronzini and moves to full-back, with Luca Sperandio taking on the 11 jersey. In the front row, Tiziano Pasquali replaces Giuseppe Di Stefano
Team news (Leinster): With a host of players back from international action, Leinster’s ranks have been considerably boosted. But the big news comes in the form of Garry Ringrose, who makes his first appearance of the season following injury. There is also a debut for winger James Lowe.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 1, 2017
Talking Points: Christmas has come early for Leinster and Ireland, with Ringrose back fit for a crucial time of the season.
The swashbuckling centre is set for his first start this campaign and if he can emerge unscathed with an hour under his belt, then Cullen will be delighted ahead of two massive Champions Cup clashes with Exeter Chiefs.
An instinctive and natural player, Ringrose adds variation and unpredictability to Leinster’s attack.
Key Battle: Nasi Manu v Josh van der Flier. Quick ball is what every potent attack thrives upon and the battle at the breakdown could go a long way to determining the outcome of the match.
With Leinster likely to control possession and territory the role of Benetton’s backrow will be to starve the visitors’ dangerous attack, and for that to succeed openside Nasi Manu is crucial to the cause.
The New Zealander has been a big hit since joining from Edinburgh this season. But in Josh van der Flier, he comes up against one of the best sevens in the league. Stop him and Benetton could cut off Leinster’s supply line.
Key Stat: Leinster have won their last five matches against Benetton Rugby since their 24-24 draw at Monigo Stadium in November 2014.
Did you know? Leinster have only once been defeated by an Italian opponent in the Championship, losing 29-13 at Benetton in their very first such encounter in September 2010.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) December 1, 2017
Benetton: Marty Banks, Tommaso Benvenuti, Ignacio Brex, Alberto Sgarbi (C), Luca Sperandio, Tommaso Allan, Giorgio Bronzini, Cherif Traore, Tomas Baravalle, Tiziano Pasquali, Alessandro Zanni, Irné Herbst, Whetu Douglas, Nasi Manu, Robert Barbieri.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Nicola Quaglio, Alberto De Marchi, Federico Ruzza, Marco Lazzaroni, Sebastian Negri, Edoardo Gori, Luca Morisi
Leinster: Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Noel Reid, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath, Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Andrew Porter, Ian Nagle, Scott Fardy, Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Ed Byrne, Vakh Abdaladze, Mick Kearney, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy, Fergus McFadden, Rory O’Loughlin.
Match officials – Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)
AR1: Andrea Piardi (FIR)
AR2: Manuel Bottino (FIR)
TV: Eurosport, TG4 (KO 4.30pm local)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
James Lowe’s debut double helped power Leinster to an impressive away victory over Benetton Rugby, keeping up the pressure on Scarlets at the top of Conference B.
Benetton opened the scoring through the boot of Tommaso Allan but Leinster fired back with a debut try for Lowe, backed up by a score for Jordi Murphy.
The men from Treviso rallied after the break with Ignacio Brex’s try, but the visitors immediately responded with an effort from centre Garry Ringrose, making his first appearance of the season following shoulder surgery.
Ringrose’s score was a dagger to the Italians’ chances, with further tries from captain Luke McGrath and Lowe’s second capping off a comprehensive away performance.
Leinster started the game aiming to overtake Ulster Rugby in Conference B and make up some ground on top-of-the-table Scarlets.
But the Italians started with impressive energy and got their reward on seven minutes when Allan kicked a penalty from just to the right of the posts.
The men from Dublin found their feet though and Lowe soon had his first try for the province following a kick to the corner from Byrne – the New Zealander storming over the line at irresistible pace.
Scott Fardy was causing havoc in the lineout and Byrne kicked a three-pointer before Murphy got the visitor’s second try on 32 minutes, with a little help from centre Ringrose.
Byrne converted the second score to give the away side a 17-3 half-time lead but Benetton enjoyed a concerted spell of pressure after the interval, bombarding the Leinster line until Brex powered over from three metres out.
The men in blue were in no mood to get into an arm-wrestle though and breaks from Luke McGrath and Lowe created an opportunity for Ringrose to jink his way over in the corner on 61 minutes – Byrne again adding the extras.
Lowe then had a big hand in the bonus-point try, the bulky winger again finding space down the left-hand side before passing inside to skipper McGrath to run in from 40 metres out.
Leinster began to take over the game and Lowe soon had his second try of the night after collecting an excellent pass from Noel Reid, stepping his opposite man to go over in the corner.
The Italian side pressed hard in the final ten minutes to get something out of the game, but the Leinster defence had proved resolute all afternoon, led by the returning Josh van der Flier, and saw out the match with relative comfort.