Benetton Rugby and Edinburgh Rugby meet in Treviso as two of the heavyweights in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 are placed on collision course in Round 17.
A potential cracker could be in the offing as two talented teams go head-to-head.
What’s at stake?
A crucial clash in the battle for Conference B’s Guinness PRO14 Final Series berths is on the cards as in-form Benetton roll out the red carpet for Edinburgh.
Unbeaten in eight successive matches in all competitions, Kieran Crowley’s troops begin Round 17 four points ahead of Edinburgh and two in front of Ulster, who are third.
Richard Cockerill’s visitors, who were edged out at home by Cardiff Blues last time out, will be looking to reel in their rivals as the regular season winds down towards its conclusion.
Team news (Benetton Rugby)
Luca Sperandio is given the nod at full-back whilst on the wings, Ratuva Tavuyara and Monty Ioane are set to be unleashed.
Skipper Alberto Sgarbi is partnered by Marco Zanon in the centres while Ian McKinley starts at fly-half, with Marco Lazzaroni, Giovanni Pettinelli and Toa Halafihi named as Crowley’s back-row trio.
Team news (Edinburgh Rugby)
Scotland internationals Hamish Watson and WP Nel will be back in the thick of the action as Edinburgh attempt to stop Benetton in their tracks.
Watson and Nel return from injury whilst scrum-half Henry Pyrgos and centre Chris Dean are both also included, having sat out their team’s loss to the Blue due to their international commitments – Pyrgos is also named as captain.
Tom Brown is named at full-back but Edinburgh won’t be able to count on Duhan van der Merwe and Viliame Mata, who are both ruled out.
Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill said: “It’s a huge game for us and it’s a huge game in the context of the conference.
“We’ve had a couple of defeats in the last few games and they are four points above us. We need to win.
“It will be a very tough match, but the momentum of our season will swing if we can go there and win.
“That’s the reality of the game and that’s our objective. We’ve got to be hungry to go there and win.”
Key battle – Monty Ioane v Jack Blain
With 16 rounds of the 2018-19 Guinness PRO14 done and dusted, only three players have beaten more opposition defenders than Benetton winger Monty Ioane – and one of them won’t be playing this weekend.
The Australian flyer has been a star performer for the men from Treviso so far this term, who has left 39 defenders trailing in his wake so far.
Benetton have won their last six home matches in all competitions, with their last loss coming at the hands of Ulster in Round Eight.
Did you know?
Edinburgh have won their last two matches against Benetton whilst their overall records on visits to Stadio Monigo is split evenly – four wins and four losses.
Lining up in the opposite No.11 shirt will the prodigiously-talented teenager Jack Blain, a member of Scotland’s Under-20 Six Nations squad.
Can youngster Blain make his presence felt, particularly in the absence of Van der Merwe, who tops the ‘defenders beaten’ column (61).
Benetton Rugby: Luca Sperandio, Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Alberto Sgarbi (c), Monty Ioane, Ian McKinley, Dewaldt Duvenage, Toa Halafihi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolò Cannone, Irné Herbst, Marco Riccioni, Tomas Baravalle, Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Derrick Appiah, Tiziano Pasquali, Robert Barbieri, Marco Barbini, Giorgio Bronzini, Antonio Rizzi, Tommaso Benvenuti
Edinburgh Rugby: Tom Brown, Damien Hoyland, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Jack Blain, Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos (c), Pierre Schoeman, David Cherry, WP Nel, Fraser McKenzie, Callum Hunter-Hill, Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson, Ally Miller
Replacements: Ross Ford, Rory Sutherland, Pietro Ceccarelli, Ben Toolis, Senitiki Nayalo, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Mark Bennett
TV: At Stadio Monigo, Treviso, 3pm. Live on Premier Sports 2 and DAZN
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Andrea Piardi (FIR), Kieran Barry (IRFU)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
Antonio Rizzi’s second-half try extended Benetton Rugby’s unbeaten run in the Guinness PRO14 to eight games as they overcame Conference B rivals Edinburgh.
The Italian outfit went into the game in second place, with a four-point advantage over fourth-placed Edinburgh the race for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series.
And a topsy-turvy encounter in Treviso saw the lead change hands multiple times, with Edinburgh taking the lead twice through a Jaco van der Walt penalty and James Johnstone’s try.
But Benetton are unbeaten in the Guinness PRO14 since November and second-half scores from Niccolo Cannone and Rizzi proved enough to earn them another win.
The significance of the match was clear for all to see in the first half at Stadio Monigo as neither side was able to find the opening try of the game before the interval.
Edinburgh were first to get on the scoreboard with an early penalty after three minutes, with van der Walt splitting the uprights from 40m to give the visitors the lead.
Their Italian hosts responded with their first spell of pressure as Ian McKinley orchestrated a backline attack deep in the Edinburgh 22 but Richard Cockerill’s side remained resilient.
In fact, defence continued to rule the roost on both sides before Benetton levelled up the scores on the half hour, McKinley converting the three points in front of the posts.
With the momentum in their favour, Benetton almost took the lead after they appeared to score the first try just before half-time, only to see it chalked off for a forward pass.
It remained all square at the break after a bruising opening 40 minutes in Treviso, but the breakthrough finally came six minutes after the restart.
The hosts hit the front for the first time after second-row Cannone muscled over the whitewash from a few metres out, with McKinley successful adding the extras.
Benetton’s lead did not last long, though, as Edinburgh hit back with their opening try of the game on 53 minutes through Johnstone, with van der Walt converting.
Edinburgh went through the phases with several pick-and-goes before finding Johnstone, who showed quick footwork and cut through the Benetton defensive line to score.
But just as Edinburgh looked to be stamping their authority on the match, Benetton responded with their second try through replacement Rizzi.
The hosts went through the phases and after an offside gave Benetton a penalty advantage, a grubber from Monty Ioane was pounced upon by Rizzi for the try.
Rizzi stepped up to convert the score to make it 15-10 with ten minutes remaining, before the fly-half sealed the victory at the death with a penalty after a frantic end to the game.