Benetton head to Cardiff Blues on Friday night for the first time this campaign with plenty to play for in the Guinness PRO14.
A resurgent Blues are looking for a fourth straight league victory with Benetton hoping to bounce back from defeat last time out against Connacht.
What’s at stake
Cardiff Blues find themselves 10 points adrift of the Toyota Cheetahs, who hold the final play-off spot in Conference A, but do have a game in hand and can narrow the gap to their South African counterparts.
Benetton meanwhile have enjoyed one of their best seasons since joining the league and currently sit in fifth place, five points behind Ulster and 12 behind third places Edinburgh Rugby.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
Matthew Morgan and Willis Halaholo return from injury having been on the treatment table since January.
Morgan comes in for Rhun Williams at full-back while Halaholo comes into the XV in place of Rey Lee-Lo, who is amongst the replacements.
There are a further four changes in the pack with captain Gethin Jenkins teaming up with Taufa’ao Filise and Kirby Myhill in the front row.
Nick Williams and Macauley Cook are also recalled into the starting XV, with Josh Turnbull and Olly Robinson switching to lock and openside respectively
Team news (Benetton)
Luca Sperandio will start at full-back with the in-form Monty Ioane and Michael Tagicakibau on the wings.
Giorgio Bronzini and Marty Banks form the half-back unit with the back row consisting of Francesco Minto, captain Marco Barbini and Nasi Manu.
Completing the Italian pack heading to the Welsh capital will be Federico Zani, Hame Faiva, Matteo Zanusso, Marco Fuser and Irné Herbst.
Head coach, Danny Wilson said:
“We’ve won three of the block of four PRO14 games that we targeted up to this point, with this one remaining to go four out of four.
“We just managed to get the win out in Zebre last time out, which was a great achievement considering those conditions and the quality of the opposition.
“Now we need to do the double over the Italian sides by winning against Treviso on Friday night, but we know it’s going to be a tough game.
“It’s a tough five games remaining, but it’s five games we see as an opportunity to catch the Cheetahs.”
“We’ve said over the last month that we’re looking up, trying to catch the Cheetahs and trying to get to that play-off positions, which would be a massive achievement for us, considering the season.
“But it’s a minimum standard for us to qualify for the Champions Cup, which is going to be a challenge with the other sides close on our heels, but I think, with the quarter final in Europe also to come, there is plenty to play for and plenty to be positive about.”
Key battle: Owen Lane v Monty Ioane
If previous results for these two sides are anything to go by we could be in for a real treat and these two wingers could hold the key to where the game is settled.
Owen Lane is in fine form after dotting down the decisive try in the Blues victory over Zebre last time out, also making 118 metres in a stellar performance from the youngster.
His opposite number Monty Ioane has enjoyed a sensation term for the Green and Whites, making 82 metres against Connacht as well as crossing the whitewash.
Only five players have produced more tackles in the Guinness PRO14 this season than Cardiff Blues Olly Robinson.
Did you know:
Cardiff Blues scored 11 tries against Benetton last season, notching up three on the road in a 34-28 triumph before sealing a superb 57-20 win at home last February.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams, Gethin Jenkins (C), Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Rhys Gill, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Steven Shingler, Rey Lee-Lo
Benetton: Luca Sperandio, Michael Tagicakibau, Tommaso Iannone, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Marty Banks, Giorgio Bronzini, Federico Zani, Hame Faiva, Matteo Zanusso, Marco Fuser, Irné Herbst, Francesco Minto, Marco Barbini (C), Nasi Manu
Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Riccardo Brugnara, Cherif Traore, Marco Lazzaroni, Engjel Makelara, Ian McKinley, Alberto Sgarbi, Andrea Bronzini
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU) Gareth Newman (WRU)
TMO: Olly Hodges (IRFU)
TV: BBC2 Wales: 19:30
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
Cardiff Blues registered a fourth straight victory in the Guinness PRO14 in their rearranged fixture against Benetton Rugby under the lights in Cardiff.
Four tries for the hosts saw them claim a valuable bonus-point as they cut the ten-point gap to Toyota Cheetahs, who sit third in Conference A.
However, despite slipping to back-to-back defeats, Benetton showed a huge amount of fight and picked up a losing bonus-point with Ian McKinley’s late try reduced the final score to 31-25.
Benetton started the brighter of the two sides and an early scrum penalty gave fly-half Marty Banks the opportunity to open the scoring in the fourth minute of the game, which had previously fallen victim to ‘The Beast from the East’.
Gethin Jenkins then came agonisingly close for the Blues after charging down an attempted clearance from Banks – in almost a repeat of his famous try for Wales in the 2005 Grand Slam victory against Ireland.
This time his pursuit of the ball ended in disappointment as the ball went dead, before Banks added to Benetton’s lead with another penalty down the other end.
A scrappy encounter eventually came to life on the half-hour mark when Matthew Morgan, on his return after two months out with a hip injury, cut through the visitor’s defence and set Owen Lane away for the first try. Jarrod Evans added the extras.
With their tails now up, Blues soon doubled their advantage following an incisive move which saw Evans break through and find Lloyd Williams, who in turn set up Olly Robinson for the try.
Benetton hit back immediately, though, with scrum-half Giorgio Bronzini charging down Evans’ attempted kick and touching down for a try converted by Banks.
A long-range penalty then allowed Evans to redeem himself for the mistake that led to the try as the Blues took a 17-13 lead into the half-time break.
Cardiff made two changes at the start of the second half, with Welsh internationals Ellis Jenkins and Kristian Dacey coming on for Macauley Cook and Kirby Myhill, respectively.
And Jenkins made an instant impression after anticipating Tomos Williams’ clever chip through before collecting and dotting down under the posts for Blues’ third try.
Evans converted again to extend the hosts’ lead to 24-13, but Benetton bounced back quickly once again as winger Monty Ioane crossed the whitewash and Burns added the extras.
Despite Benetton’s resilience keeping them in the game, Cardiff’s attack continued to find holes in the visitors’ defence and they had a bonus-point try in the 54th minute.
No. 8 Nick Williams did the damage, powering over the tryline from close range, after namesake Tomos came up short with a quick tap penalty. Evans made no mistake from the tee to restore Cardiff’s 11-point advantage.
It would turn out to be Tomos Williams’ last action in the game as a bang to the head forced him off for a HIA, with the multi-talented flanker Jenkins taking over as makeshift scrum-half.
The Blues were on the backfoot for the last ten minutes as Benetton strived for a losing bonus point and a try came in the final minute as McKinley crashed over from a lineout drive.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start from just €35 for adults and €10 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie