Benetton Rugby will be looking to extend their winning start to the Guinness PRO14 season when they take on last year’s runners-up the Scarlets in Llanelli. The Conference B clash on Saturday night at Parc y Scarlets will kick off at 5.15pm.
What’s at stake? Benetton have made the best start in their history to the Guinness PRO14 with successive wins over Welsh opposition, the Dragons, followed by a last-gasp win over Cardiff Blues last week. They are up against another team from Wales this week in the Scarlets, who got the better of Leinster last week. As it stands Benetton are top of Conference B but at this early stage just three points separate them and the Scarlets who are currently fifth.
Team news (Scarlets): Wayne Pivac has stuck with much of the team who beat Leinster last time out with just two injury-enforced changes in the pack. Rob Evans and Josh McLeod were both ruled out with shoulder injuries meaning that Phil Price and Ed Kennedy come into the pack. As a result, the impressive Blade Thomson switches from blindside flanker to No.8.
Team news (Benetton Rugby): Kieran Crowley has made a host of changes from the team that beat Cardiff Blues last week but Tommaso Allan keeps his place after slotting the game-winning conversion. Luca Sperandio and Marco Zanon come into the backline, with Dewaldt Duvenage also getting the nod at scrum-half. Up front there are a couple of major absentees with Sebastian Negri and Dean Budd both missing out so Marco Lazzaroni and Irne Herbst come in, as does Simone Ferrari at tighthead.
Scarlets director of rugby Wayne Pivac said: “They’re unbeaten. We played them four times last season, it was a 3-1 result. One of those games in Europe, we had the game under control after 15-20 minutes, we had an extra man for the remainder of the game and somehow switched off and had to score two tries in the last minutes to win the game.
“We have full respect for them. They also beat us in the international window out there last year. We know what we need to do to win the game. We have to bring the same physicality. We won’t underestimate them. We want to continue to build on the game last week and continue to head in the right direction.”
Key battle: Braam Steyn v James Davies
It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting flankers than Braam Steyn and James Davies but Saturday will see the pair face off. Where Davies is the ultimate menace at the breakdown and in the support game, Steyn is a more traditional, hard-hitting back-rower. The vastly-experienced Italy international is capable of playing across the back row, and even in the second row, and his lineout ability will be useful for the Italians as well.
Key Fact: Benetton are two from two to start a Guinness PRO14 season for the first time in their history however Scarlets have not lost at home in the Guinness PRO14 since September 2016.
Did you know? Benetton have won five of their last six matches against Welsh opposition including two victories in their last three visits to Wales.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Prydie, Kieron Fonotia, Hadleigh Parkes, Johnny McNicholl, Dan Jones, Gareth Davies, Phil Price, Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Steve Cummins, Ed Kennedy, James Davies, Blade Thomson
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Werner Kruger, David Bulbring, Dan Davis, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Paul Asquith, Ioan Nicholas
Benetton Rugby: Luca Sperandio, Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Tommaso Allan, Dewaldt Duvenage, Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva, Simone Ferrari, Irne Herbst, Marco Fuser, Marco Lazzaroni, Braam Steyn, Robert Barbieri
Replacements: Engjel Makelara, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Alessandro Zanni, Marco Barbini, Giorgio Bronzini, Antonio Rizzi, Alberto Sgarbi
TV: Parc y Scarlets. Live on Premier Sports 1, eir sport 2, S4C, DAZN
Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (SRU) and Simon Mills (WRU)
Gareth Davies dotted down a double for Scarlets as they ended Benetton’s unbeaten Guinness PRO14 campaign.
In a back-and-forth battle at Parc Y Scarlets, the Welsh squandered their first-half lead to go behind in the second period, before mounting a dramatic bonus-point comeback.
Davies opened the scoring after his namesake James Davies made a slicing break and released the scrum-half for his first.
But the Italians replied instantly, picking and going until Nicola Quaglio found a gap on the line and dived over, with Tommaso Allan adding the extras to level the score.
Only two minutes later Scarlets took the lead with another searing try, this time Kieron Fonotia finishing off a break from Leigh Halfpenny.
Again though Benetton responded as Iliesa Ratuva showed immense pace down the right wing to make almost 30 metres, before the ball made its way inside to Simone Ferrari to muscle over from close range.
The lightning pace of the game was somewhat stalled when Irne Herbst was adjudged to lead with an elbow clearing out a ruck and saw red.
The hosts took advantage of the man extra as Davies got on the scoreboard again, Blade Thomson making the initial break through a gap before off-loading with one hand to the oncoming scrum-half.
But it was the visitors who came racing out of the blocks in the second half, Dewaldt Duvenage pouncing on a handling error in the Scarlets backline to kick the ball up-field for Ioane to speed on to and dot down.
It was quickly a seven-point difference as Duvenage put through a delightful grubber under the posts for Allan to jump on, who then converted his own score to give the Italians a bonus-point.
But, in much the same fashion as the first-half, Scarlets once more hit back through Johnny McNicholl in a brilliant solo effort, powering over the defender on the blind side of a scrum to cut the deficit.
The hosts were soon back in the lead after Paul Asquith made a 50-metre break and the ball was quickly recycled to McNicholl, who popped the ball inside to Kennedy for Scarlets’ bonus-point score.
The duel continued as Allan slotted a penalty to cut the gap to just two points going into the final 10 minutes.
But it wasn’t enough and Scarlets pushed for a fifth try to seal the win, eventually producing the goods in the 81st minute as Tom Prydie latched on the end of a Sam Hidalgo-Clyne chip to the corner.