Benetton are riding high in Conference B and have momentum on their side in their quest for a Guinness PRO14 Final Series place as they welcome Dragons to Stadio Monigo.
The Italian outfit are level on points with Edinburgh in second going into Round 16, while Dragons are second from bottom with Isuzu Southern Kings just over their shoulder.
What’s at stake?
Benetton showed they mean business in the race to finish in the top three last weekend with a hard-fought 25-19 victory against Scarlets as they stole a march on their Conference B rivals.
The visitors led the way on three occasions in Italy, but tries from Toa Halafihi, Luca Sperandio and Federico Ruzza, plus ten points from Ian McKinley, handed Benetton victory.
While Leinster are unlikely to be usurped at the summit, it’s all to play for below the defending champions with just five points separating Edinburgh, Benetton, Ulster and Scarlets.
Dragons, on the other hand, only have one win in their last six, leaving the Welsh region level on points with Southern Kings at the bottom, and are in desperate need of a victory.
Team news (Benetton)
Luca Sperandio remains at full-back for the hosts, with Ratuva Tavuyara and Monty Ioane on the wings, while Tommaso Benvenuti and captain Alberto Sgarbi will be in the centres.
The half-backs are Dewaldt Duvenage at scrum-half and Antonio Rizzi at fly-half, with the front row consisting of Derrick Appiah, Tomas Baravalle and Marco Riccioni.
Irné Herbst and Niccolò Cannone will be the locks and the back row sees Marco Lazzaroni, Giovanni Pettinelli and Toa Halafihi complete the XV chosen by Kieran Crowley.
— Dragons 🏉 (@dragonsrugby) February 22, 2019
Team news (Dragons)
Jason Tovey will return to the starting line-up at fly-half for Dragons in Italy, where he will be on the brink of making history for the region against Benetton Rugby.
He starts the game just five short of 1,000 points for Dragons in all competitions and is one of four changes made by head coach Ceri Jones for the encounter at the Stadio Monigo.
Jack Dixon is recalled to partner Tyler Morgan in midfield while full back Zane Kirchner is also named in the team as Lewis Evans comes into the second row as the only change in the pack.
Dragons head coach Ceri Jones said: “I have nothing but respect for what Benetton have done this season. They have really established themselves as a quality team.
“They are well drilled and if you look at their results this season, particularly over the last few months, you can see they are a very good side.
“We all know about our away record and we need to go out there and get an away win. We need to address it and get it over the line.
“We made big strides up in Edinburgh last time out, but ultimately we didn’t get it over the line. It is something we strive towards every single away game and we will travel with confidence.”
Key battle – Dewaldt Duvenage v Rhodri Williams
While Benetton will be looking to use their formidable forward pack to their advantage against Dragons, their success will rely on Dewaldt Duvenage providing quick ball.
The visitors have struggled to get their attack going in recent weeks, but if Rhodri Williams can keep his side ticking over then there will be opportunities for Dragons to get at the Italians.
Key fact: Benetton have picked up 23 Guinness PRO14 points from their last six encounters, only Irish provinces Leinster and Munster have tallied more with 24 apiece.
👀 FOCUSED ON #BENvDRA
— Forza Nasi Manu! 💪🏽 (@BenettonRugby) February 21, 2019
Did you know? Dragons’ most recent away victory in the Guinness PRO14 came at Stadio Monigo in March 2015, but the Italians have not lost there this season since early November.
Benetton Rugby: Luca Sperandio, Ratuva Tavuyara, Tommaso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi (c), Monty Ioane, Antonio Rizzi, Dewaldt Duvenage, Toa Halafihi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolò Cannone, Irné Herbst, Marco Riccioni, Tomas Baravalle, Derrick Appiah
Replacements: Engjel Makelara, Alberto De Marchi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Robert Barbieri, Marco Barbini, Giorgio Bronzini, Marco Zanon, Tommaso Iannone
Dragons: Zane Kirchner, Jared Rosser, Tyler Morgan, Jack Dixon, Will Talbot-Davies, Jason Tovey, Rhodri Williams, Brok Harris, Richard Hibbard (c), Lloyd Fairbrother, Lewis Evans, Matthew Screech, Harri Keddie, Ollie Griffiths, James Benjamin
Replacements: Rhys Lawrence, Rhys Fawcett, Dan Suter, Joe Davies, Taine Basham, Rhodri Davies, Josh Lewis, Adam Warren
TV: At Stadio Monigo, Treviso, 1pm. Live on DAZN, Premier Sports 1, S4C, eir Sport 1 & 2
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (FIR), Gianlucca Gnecchi (FIR)
TMO: Alan Falzone (FIR)
Benetton hit 50 as they ran in nine tries to topple the Dragons on home soil and go second, at least temporarily, in the Conference B standings.
Antonio Rizzi notched 15 points – 10 with the boot – and Luca Sperandio crossed twice in a game that was dominated by the pace, power and trickery of the Benetton backs.
The Dragons struggled to keep their opponents in check, and a Jared Rosser score proved the only impression that they could make on the score-board.
The hosts raced into an early lead, and had the vision of Dewaldt Duvenage to thank for their opening score.
The South African skipped two Benetton men with an incisive pass to give Rizzi an easy score after the hosts had set up shop on the Dragons line.
They made it two in spectacular fashion when Alberto Sgarbi found Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara out wide, whose deft grubber to himself meant a desperate chase for the line.
And it was the Fijian flyer who got there first, diving to grab the ball at full length and slam it down in the corner, the score confirmed by referee Quinton Immelman after a look at the TMO.
Tavuyara turned provider for Benetton’s third as he improvised an offload to Sperandio just metres out for the youngster to crash over despite the attentions of Will Talbot Davies and Rhodri Williams.
He sealed the bonus point for the hosts inside the half hour as Benetton continued to dominate down the right, this time Sgarbi – skipper on the day – timed his pass perfectly to give Sperandio a free run in to score.
The hosts had their fifth in a truly relentless first-half display, Rizzi looping a long pass out wide to Monty Ioane, who wriggled his way through with devilish footwork.
Though the Dragons responded with their first of the contest through a fine burst from the back of the scrum by Williams before Rosser made sure, it was 40 minutes of rugby defined by the clinical nature of the Italians.
And they started the second half in much the same fashion, grabbing a sixth score of the afternoon, this time through a hardy pick-and-go as Tomas Baravalle got the forwards in on the act.
The indefatigable hosts were soon in seventh heaven, Niccolo Cannone putting the finishing touches to a lightning-fast move, before he scored again on the hour from an emphatic drive after a quick line-out to bring up the half-century.
And Robert Barbieri forced his way over for the hosts’ ninth at the death as they capped things off in perfect fashion.