Having returned to winning ways with an historic victory over Connacht in Round 15 of the Guinness PRO14, Zebre go looking to record back-to-back wins when they host Cardiff Blues on Sunday.
Michael Bradley’s troops celebrated a first-ever triumph at the Sportsground last time out and will be aiming to put the Blues through the wringer at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
What’s at stake?
Zebre’s 19-11 win at Connacht brought a run of six straight Guinness PRO14 defeats to a decisive end.
The Italians remain bottom of the Conference A table and need to put points on the board to remain on the coat-tails of the teams above them.
The Blues, meanwhile, have won their last two games, defeating both the Toyota Cheetahs and Munster on home soil.
They remain in the hunt for a third-placed finish, with the Cheetahs in their sights.
Team news (Zebre)
Domenica alle 14:00 le @ZebreRugby ospiteranno i @cardiff_blues allo Stadio Lanfranchi di #Parma nel 16° turno di @PRO14Official. All’andata bianconeri in meta al 76′ con Palazzani. Riuscirà il n° 9 del #XVdelNordOvest a ripetersi anche questo finesettimana? #ZEBvCBL pic.twitter.com/yLDEwDVfEh
— Zebre Rugby (@ZebreRugby) February 23, 2018
After being released from international duty with Italy, Zebre will welcome centre Giulio Bisegni, prop Dario Chistolini and hooker Oliviero Fabiani into the fold.
As he makes his 102nd appearance for the club, Guglielmo Palazzani is named captain while Rory Parata switches to full-back, with Giovanbattista Venditti starting on the left wing.
Fly-half Serafin Bordoli replaces Carlo Canna while Zebre have a new-look second-row unit, with David Sisi partnering Leonard Krumov, James Tucker switching to the back row.
Team news (Cardiff Blues)
The Blues make six changes for their trip to Parma, with Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill and Anton Peikrishvili linking up in the front row.
Damian Welch comes in for Seb Davies, who is away with the Wales squad, while Olly Robinson and Josh Turnbull step up from the bench after Macauley Cook and Nick Williams were ruled out with injury.
Zebre head coach Bradley believes that his team are playing with freedom at the moment.
“If I was a player, I’d be enjoying it because we’re not playing one-dimensional rugby, we’re not kicking the ball and running after it all day,” he said.
“The coaching staff are saying to the players: ‘go back and remember when you used to enjoy the game and not have coaches tell you everything – run and enjoy with the ball in your hand,’ even for numbers one to eight.”
And we’re off to Parma! The refurbished terminal building at @Cardiff_Airport looks brilliant, thanks for the great service as usual. Ciao!
— Cardiff Blues (@cardiff_blues) February 24, 2018
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues boss Danny Wilson is anticipating a tricky afternoon for his team.
He said: “We all know it’s a very tough place to go to win. Gone are the days where you go to Zebre to pick up a bonus-point win.
“It’s an extremely difficult place and they got a result last week against Connacht away, and beat them quite comfortably.
“They’re not the route-one, set-piece and kicking-only team that they used to be. There is far more to them and therefore, they are a real threat.”
Key battle – Guglielmo Palazzani v Lloyd Williams
Sunday’s showdown will be a big day for 26-year-old Zebre man Palazzani, who became only the second man to accrue more than 100 caps for his team earlier this month.
He skippers Zebre as they attempt to take maximum points but his scrum-half rival Lloyd Williams comes into this weekend’s game in fine form.
The 28-year-old was a try-scorer as Cardiff defeated Munster 25-18 last time out.
Key stat: The Blues have lost just one of their last seven encounters with Zebre, a 15-26 defeat in Parma in October 2015.
Did you know? The Blues hold the advantage in the overall Guinness PRO14 head-to-head record between these two teams, having won eight games to Zebre’s three.
Zebre: Rory Parata, Gabriele Di Giulio, Giulio Bisegni, Faialaga Afamasaga, Giovanbattista Venditti, Serafin Bordoli, Guglielmo Palazzani (C), Derick Minnie, Johan Meyer, James Tucker, Leonard Krumov, David Sisi, Dario Chistolini, Oliviero Fabiani, Cruze Ah-Nau
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Daniele Rimpelli, Roberto Tenga, Valerio Bernabò, Jacopo Sarto, Riccardo Raffaele, Maicol Azzolini, Matteo Pratichetti
Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams, Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Rey Lee-Lo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Gill, Kyle Myhill, Anton Peikrishvili, George Earle, Damian Welch, Olly Robinson, Ellis Jenkins (C), Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, James Down, Alun Lawrence, Tomos Williams, Steve Shingler, Blaine Scully
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Assistants: Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU), Clara Munarini (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Roberto Carra (FIR)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
TV: Eurosport Italia
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
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