The long-awaited first Italian derby of the season between Zebre and Benetton is set to capture the imagination in the Guinness PRO14 this weekend.
Compatriots will go toe-to-toe at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi as the hosts look to kick start their season in style against their nearest rivals.
What’s at stake?
On derby day, everything is at stake.
But in terms of the league standings, both sides will view this clash as a perfect opportunity to capitalise.
Zebre sit at the foot of Conference A, but the Parma side can leapfrog Southern Kings with victory.
While Benetton have only won once in their last four Guinness PRO14 outings, the Treviso outfit sit fourth in Conference B and are six points behind Scarlets in second place.
Team news (Zebre):
Zebre have named 11 full Italian internationals in their side to face Benetton with Michael Bradley making three changes for the fixture.
Captain Tommaso Castello returns to rouse his troops after returning from injury in the Champions Cup last weekend.
The other two changes sees Giulio Bisegni come into the centres, while Guglielmo Palazzani gains his 118th cap for the club at scrum-half.
Team news (Benetton):
Benetton make a raft of changes and have named a back row consisting of Jayden Hayward, wings Ratuva Tavuyara and Monty Ioane.
Dewaldt Duvenage starts at scrum half and Ian McKinley at fly-half, while the front row consists of Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva and Marco Riccioni.
Head coach Kieran Crowley has opted for Alessandro Zanni and Federico Ruzza in the boiler room.
The rest of the back row sees Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn and captain Marco Barbini completing the line-up.
Key battle: Ian McKinley v Carlo Canna
In a derby, every position plays a central role in swinging the result but fly-halves Ian McKinley and Carlo Canna are certainly to have a big say.
McKinley played a starring role in downing Harlequins in the Challenge Cup two weeks ago, notching 11 points to sink the Premiership side in an assured kicking display.
But his opposite number can certainly pack a punch himself and he showed in the Challenge Cup back-to-back victories over Enisei-STM with three tries in two matches.
Canna’s accuracy from the tee is also unnerving with the 26-year-old slotting five conversions and a penalty against the Russia opposition.
Key stat: Zebre beat Benetton 22-17 in Treviso in April to end a four-game losing run against their local rivals.
Did you know? Benetton have been victorious on two of their previous six visits to face Zebre in Parma.
Zebre: 15. Edoardo Padovani, 14. Paula Balekana, 13. Giulio Bisegni, 12. Tommaso Castello (c), 11. James Elliott, 10. Carlo Canna, 9. Guglielmo Palazzani, 8. Renato Giammarioli, 7. Johan Meyer, 6. Giovanni Licata, 5. George Biagi, 4. David Sisi, 3. Giosué Zilocchi, 2. Oliviero Fabiani, 1. Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luhandre Luus, 17. Daniele Rimpelli, 18. Dario Chistolini, 19. Apisai Tauyavuca, 20. Maxime Mbandà, 21. Joshua Renton, 22. Francois Brummer, 23. Tommaso Boni
Benetton: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Ratuva Tavuyara, 13. Ignacio Brex, 12. Alberto Sgarbi, 11. Monty Ioane, 10. Ian McKinley, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Marco Barbini (c), 7. Abraham Steyn, 6. Sebastian Negri, 5. Federico Ruzza, 4. Alessandro Zanni, 3. Marco Riccioni, 2. Hame Faiva, 1. Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: 16. Engjel Makelara, 17. Derrick Appiah, 18. Simone Ferrari, 19. Marco Fuser, 20. Giovanni Pettinelli, 21. Michele Lamaro, 22. Tito Tebaldi, 23. Tommaso Allan
TV: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Sunday 3pm. Live on DAZN and Premier Sports
Referee: Marius Mitrea
Assistant Referees: Andrea Piardi, Manuel Bottino
TMO: Alan Falzone
Benetton reigned supreme in a close fought Italian derby as Ratuva Tavuyara’s first-half try sealed a memorable away victory in Parma.
Benetton hadn’t won away from home since Round 1 of the Guinness PRO14, but the telling contribution of Ian McKinley was enough to seal the points and earn the bragging rights.
Jamie Elliott replied midway through the second-half, but costly kicking from Carlo Canna ensured that Zebre fell to only their second home defeat since February.
Zebre’s Canna had the perfect chance to open the scoring from the tee, but the fly-half was denied by the upright after 15 minutes to keep the scores level.
Both defences proved steadfast throughout the opening half, but eventually Italy fly-half McKinley was able to find the key that unlocked the Zebre defence.
The No. 10 grasped the ball 30 metres out and opted to cross field kick to the wide right where he found the welcoming hands of Tavuyara who burst down the flank and scored.
All it took was a lovely piece of invention from the mercurial fly-half, but it proved essential to lift the spirits of the travellers and McKinley duly slotted the conversion to go 7-0 up.
The deficit was cut before half-time as Zebre’s top points scorer, Canna, atoned for his earlier miss with a well struck penalty to set up a lively second period.
McKinley brought the men in green into double figures after the restart and they were almost further ahead when captain Marco Barbini was thrown into touch with the whitewash beckoning.
But it was their rivals that hauled themselves back into the game and it came courtesy of a stunning dash from Giulio Bisegni after some stunning fast hands in the build-up.
The ball was offloaded to the left wing and all Jamie Elliott had to do was sprint and dive over the line to score. Canna was unable to convert, so Benetton stayed 10-8 ahead on 54 minutes.
With 12 minutes to go, Ian McKinley fought his way to the try line, but the Dublin-born man couldn’t turn his body and ground the ball as a result of some impressive Zebre defending.
Then when Zebre were handed a penalty 25 metres from goal eight minutes from time, it looked inevitable that Canna would put his side ahead for the first time in the game, but the Italian could only fire a third kick wide.
As the seconds ticked down, Francois Brummer kicked a wayward dropped goal, but Zebre knew they had a penalty advantage. Crucially they were unable to convert as Benetton held out to win.