Zebre have fond memories of taking on the Cardiff Blues but Danny Wilson is keen to avoid another Italian disappointment as they travel to Parma in the Guinness PRO12.
The Blues were the first team Zebre ever beat, and they have won three of the eight meetings between the sides.
In fact Wilson’s men have won just one of their last eight clashes in Italy and the Blues coach wants to put that right.
He said: “They are extremely proud of their home venue and home support and they play a sharper game of rugby both in terms of physicality and execution of skill when they are there.
“I’ve witnessed that a number of times and there are not many teams that go to Zebre and win by big margins.
“As Welsh regions generally in the last couple of years, we have struggled there. We want to put that right.
“Last year we didn’t go there with the right mind-set and attitude but I’m hoping that won’t be the case this year. We have talked about that a lot leading into this game.”
Wilson clearly means business and has made five changes for the game with Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees and Scott Andrews forming a new look front-row.
Nick Williams returns at No.8 and Steven Shingler gets the nod ahead of Gareth Anscombe in the only change to the backline.
Zebre, meanwhile, will be looking to make up for the disappointment of last week’s abandonment against Connacht when rain denied them a shot of victory when leading 22-10 at half-time.
They have made three changes from that side, with Johan Meyer, Derick Minnie and Andrea Lovotti bolstering the pack.
And for head coach Gianluca Guidi, last week’s display against Connacht augurs well for the Italian side.
He said: “We saw the response to the two first games on the pitch, even if we didn’t get any match points, it was great to see 15 Italian guys playing so well.
“We shouldn’t feel like victims over what happened but be happy with the fruits of the last two weeks of work in Wales and Parma.
“The guys are motivated and have shown it on the pitch with an international quality performance. We put Connacht under pressure.”
Zebre: Padovani, Di Giulio, Bisegni, Boni, Venditti, Canna, Palazzani, Lovotti, Fabiani, Ceccarelli, Geldenhuys, Ruzza, Mbandà, Meyer, Minnie
Replacements: D’Apice, Postiglioni, Chistolini, Bernabò, Sarto, Engelbrecht, Castello, Van Zyl
Cardiff Blues: Morgan, Scully, Allen, Lee-Lo, James, Shingler, L Williams, Gill, Rees, Andrews, Earle, Turnbull, Navidi, Warburton, N Williams
Replacements: Dacey, G Jenkins, Filise, Cook, E Jenkins, T Williams, Anscombe, Smith.
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 8, Zebre won 3, Blues won 5.
At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 5.05pm local time (4.05pm Ireland & UK)
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 44th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Luca Trentin (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Marco Cordelli (FIR)
Cardiff Blues maintained their 100 per cent Guinness PRO12 record as they clung on to beat Zebre 23-21 in an enthralling encounter at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
The Blues had won just one of their last eight matches in Italy and while they couldn’t relax until the final whistle, Danny Wilson’s men did just enough to leave Parma with the four points.
A lively first half saw Guglielmo Palazzani’s close-range try give Zebre the lead before Blaine Scully and Matthew Morgan got the Blues on top at the break.
Tom James’ score early in the second half looked to have sealed the contest but when Giulio Bisegni and Giovanbattista Venditti dotted down, the visitors were forced to hold on for the final five minutes.
But hold on they did and now sit second in the Guinness PRO12 table, level on points with leaders Ulster and yet to taste defeat this term.
Zebre were leading Connacht 22-10 at half-time last week before the match was abandoned due to bad weather and they picked up where they left off in Parma.
Carlo Canna and Steve Shingler had already traded three-pointers when the hosts booted an 11th-minute penalty to touch and, from the resulting five-metre line-out, scrum-half Palazzani burrowed over from close-range.
Canna failed to add the conversion but Blues kicker Shingler was also errant from the tee as he pushed two penalty chances wide before finally finding his mark on 22 minutes to narrow the deficit to 8-6.
And when Oliviero Fabiani was sentenced to ten minutes in the sin-bin, the visitors capitalised as Scully crossed the whitewash after strong work from the forwards following a line-out.
Shingler duly slotted the conversion and despite Josh Turnbull seeing yellow, the 14 men of Cardiff got a second try five minutes before the break.
They showed great patience to go through a number of phases before Cory Allen deftly grubbered the ball through and Morgan pounced to dot down.
Edoardo Padovani did slot a penalty on the stroke of half-time to reduce Zebre’s deficit but the Blues came out firing after the break and flying winger James stripped the ball in contact before racing into the corner unopposed for a 23-11 lead.
But the Italian outfit are nothing if not resilient and a long Canna pass put Bisegni over in the corner to narrow the gap to seven points.
Rey Lee-Lo wasted a golden opportunity to put the game to bed with 12 minutes remaining as his pass failed to find the waiting Scully and Zebre capitalised on 75 minutes.
Nick Williams knocked on close to his own line and, despite a desperate scramble, Venditti was released to go over in the corner – although Padovani failed to add the tying conversion.
And Blues did enough to see out the final few minutes as they beat Zebre for the sixth time in nine Guinness PRO12 meetings.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
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