Two sides with realistic play-off ambitions meet in Italy as Benetton Rugby play host to Glasgow Warriors with both sides keen to claim a significant scalp.
As derby fixtures continue for some in the Guinness PRO14, it’s back to normality as 2019 gets underway for these high-flying outfits.
But with each in starkly differing form, this one looks like anyone’s to call ahead of the Saturday afternoon kick-off.
What’s at stake? Three wins on the trot for Benetton – including two over Italian rivals Zebre – have shot the Treviso side up to third in a tightly contested Conference B, and just two points off Ulster above them.
With just three points separating second and fifth the onus is on breaking away from the pack in pursuit of Leinster, and a win could serve to do just that for Benetton.
The Warriors, on the other hand, will be desperate to put right a disappointing festive period, with 1872 Cup defeat to Edinburgh Rugby no doubt a difficult pill to swallow.
Dave Rennie’s men will have to pick themselves up ahead of this one as they look to ward off Munster, now just two points behind the Conference A leaders and hitting form at just the right time.
Team news (Benetton): Kieran Crowley has rung the changes in demonstration of his deep squad as he makes 11 changes to the side that beat Zebre on home soil last time out – including a total overhaul of the pack.
Dean Budd comes into the second row to captain the side, paired with Irne Herbst, with Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva and Simone Ferrari in front of them.
In the back row, Abraham Steyn gets the nod at No.8, flanked by Giovanni Pettinelli and Sebastian Negri.
Among the backs, new to the scene are Angelo Esposito and Monty Ioane on the wings, with Tommaso Benvenuti coming in at 13 and Dewaldt Duvenage starting at scrum-half.
Team news (Glasgow Warriors): Like his counterpart, Rennie has elected to employ heavy rotation to his side that fell to Edinburgh, with 10 new faces entering the fray.
Sam Johnson makes his full return to the side, joined in midfield by Stafford McDowall, while the half-back pairing is George Horne and Adam Hastings.
Ruaridh Jackson will play at full-back, with Niko Matawalu and Robbie Nairn either side of him.
In the front eight, Jamie Bhatti and Siua Halanukonuka pack down beside Grant Stewart, with Tim Swinson and Scott Cummings behind them and Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro and Adam Ashe in the back row.
Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie said: “We’ve had a good week of preparation and are looking forward to the challenge of Benetton away.
“Kieran Crowley has done an excellent job around recruitment and development and they are now a genuine play-off contender.
“Our strength has been our ability to convert opportunities, but we haven’t been clinical enough over the past couple of weeks, making more handling errors than in the previous five games. That needs to be better this week.”
Key battle: Tommaso Allan v Adam Hastings
With such widescale changes implemented by both coaches, Rennie and Crowley will look to two men who have repeatedly stepped up for their sides this season.
Still only 22, and in his sophomore season with the Warriors, Hastings nonetheless has established himself as the go-to fly-half in Rennie’s set-up, rewarded with international call-ups during the Autumn Tests.
And it’s a match-up that could well be seen in the upcoming Guinness Six Nations, as Allan looks set to keep his jersey at 10 thanks to his performances as the fulcrum of a buoyant Benetton throughout the campaign.
Key stat: The Warriors’ only win in their last four away games in Guinness PRO14 was over Ospreys at Liberty Stadium in Round 8.
Did you know? Glasgow have won their last 27 matches against Italian opponents since they were defeated by Benetton at Firhill in September 2011.
Benetton: Jayden Hayward, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Tommaso Allan, Dewaldt Duvenage; Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva, Simone Ferrari, Irne Herbst, Dean Budd (c), Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Abraham Steyn
Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Federico Ruzza, Marco Lazzaroni, Tito Tebaldi, Ian McKinley, Marco Zanon
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson, Robbie Nairn, Stafford McDowall, Sam Johnson, Niko Matawalu, Adam Hastings, George Horne; Jamie Bhatti, Grant Stewart, Siua Halanukonuka, Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson (c), Chris Fusaro, Adam Ashe
Replacements: Kevin Bryce, Alex Allan, D’Arcy Rae, Rob Harley, Matt Smith, Nick Frisby, Brandon Thomson, Lee Jones
TV: At Stadio Monigo, Treviso, 3pm. Live on DAZN and Premier Sports
Referee: Joy Neville (IRFU, 3rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Gabriel Chirnoga (FIR)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
Dean Budd’s first-half double inspired Benetton Rugby to a 20-17 victory over Glasgow Warriors to back up their form with a fourth win on the trot.
The Italian outfit started strongly in front of their home crowd and Budd opened the scoring before Sam Johnson replied for Glasgow.
Budd fired back and George Horne put the Warriors ahead at the break, but the Scottish side could only find three points in the second half.
Braam Steyn got Benetton’s third and Tommaso Allan kicked a late penalty to power Benetton up to 35 points in a red-hot run of form.
Coming off the back of their impressive double over Zebre, the home side started the better and got the opening score on 14 minutes as giant lock Budd drove over from short distance.
Allan sent over the conversion but the Warriors soon brought things back level, with a scrum on the Benetton line creating the space for centre Johnson to crash over.
The game see-sawed once again just before the half-hour, as Benetton forced their way downfield and doubled their try-count as Budd peeled off a driving maul and powered through two defenders on the line.
The Italians enjoyed more possession in the first half but were stung just before the break as Johnson stepped twice off his left foot to break into the 22 before offloading to Horne for the run-in.
Glasgow led 14-12 at the break but were behind again on 52 minutes as Benetton went wide and Steyn added his name to the growing scoresheet.
In keeping with the first 50 minutes the Scots then played their way into the home 22 with an excellent spell of pressure – only disturbed five metres from the line as Adam Hastings’ pass caught Ryan Wilson on its way to Ruaridh Jackson.
Johnson continued to impress and found space in midfield once again, enabling Hastings to notch a penalty after the defence was penalised.
With the score at 17-17 Benetton rallied once more, battling their way into the Warriors 22 and producing a simple opportunity for Allan to fire over a penalty.
Glasgow were able to get the ball down over the line in the final ten minutes but were penalised for a forward pass to Niko Matawalu, with Benetton missing a late kick at goal but holding on for an impressive win.