Sixth takes on seventh in Conference A this weekend as Zebre host Toyota Cheetahs in Round 13 of Guinness PRO14 action.
What’s at stake? Zebre are in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom of Conference A, having not won in the competition since their superb 34-16 triumph over Edinburgh in late October.
The Cheetahs currently sit one point above the Italian outfit on 17 from their ten matches so far, but will be looking to put daylight between the two sides with victory in Parma.
Team news (Zebre): There are seven changes to the Zebre side that lost against Benetton Treviso on December 29, with Massimo Ceciliani, Eduardo Bello, Samuele Ortis, Giovanni Licata and Jimmy Tuivaiti all coming into the pack.
Scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani comes in for his 120th cap, while Nicolas De Battista returns at inside centre.
Team news (Toyota Cheetahs): Franco Smith’s side return to action after a four-week winter break, and Smith also makes seven changes from their 21-17 defeat at home to Connacht last time around.
Tian Meyer returns to captain the side, while Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Aranos Coetzee, Justin Basson and Daniel Maartens are all in the starting XV.
Cheetahs director of rugby Franco Smith: “The players show a lot of enthusiasm and commitment at training and we are ready for the challenge ahead. It will be tough to face a team who has won twice at home but we are ready to take them on.”
Key battle: Guglielmo Palazzani v Tian Meyer
Two vastly experienced heads and two very canny operators are set to start at nine in this encounter. The Cheetahs will look to use their pace in the backs to hurt Zebre, with scrum-half Meyer key to ensuring quick ball in order to give the wings and centres a chance to stretch their legs. Palazzani will look to stifle his opposite number while turning to the likes of Carlo Canna at ten for Zebre’s best chances of building attacks and breaching a Cheetahs defence which has shipped the most points in Conference A this season (322).
Key stat: The South African side have scored 214 points to Zebre’s 151 this season, despite playing two fewer matches so far.
Did you know? Since entering the competition, Cheetahs have won both Guinness PRO14 meetings between the two sides, prevailing 54-39 and 24-23 in two hugely entertaining clashes to date.
Zebre: Edoardo Padovani, Paula Balekana, Giulio Besegni, Nicolas De Battista, James Elliott, Carlo Canna, Guglielmo Palazzani, Andrea Lovotti, Massimo Ceciliani, Eduardo Bello, David Sisi (c), Samuele Ortis, Maxime Mbanda, Giovanni Licata, Jimmy Tuivaiti.
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Daniele Rimpelli, Giosue Zilocchi, George Biagi, Iacopo Bianchi, Joshua Renton, Francois Brummer, Tommaso Boni.
Toyota Cheetahs: Malcolm Jaer, William Small-Smith, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Nico Lee, Rabz Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer (c), Ox Nche, Joseph Dweba, Aranos Coetzee, Justin Basson, JP du Preez, Gerhard Olivier, Junior Pokomela, Daniel Maartens.
Replacements: Reinach Venter, Charles Marais, Luan de Bruin, Sintu Manjezi, Walt Steenkamp, Abongile Nonkontwana, Rudy Paige, Louis Fouche.
TV: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Sunday 2pm. Live on DAZN, Premier Sports 1, Super Sport 1 and eir sport 2
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Aled Evans (WRU) and Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Roscini (FIR)
A brace from Benhard Janse van Rensburg clinched Toyota Cheetahs a third Guinness PRO14 victory of the season against Conference A rivals Zebre.
Three second-half tries secured the South Africans a dominant bonus point victory to continue their unbeaten run against the Parma based outfit.
Victory leaves the Cheetahs six points clear of their opponents in Conference A with two games in hand over the Italians.
Following a scrappy opening period, the visitors were handed a golden opportunity to put the first points on the board when Malcolm Jaer capitalised on the loose ball, but the wing’s kick was too powerful, and the ball flew out of play with a certain try in the reckoning.
But it mattered little as only moments later Cheetahs took advantage when the ball was turned over inside the Zebre 22 and van Rensburg dotted down out wide.
Tian Schoeman converted, and it served as perfect inspiration for Cheetahs as they notched up their second try of the afternoon only two minutes later. The Bloemfontein outfit spread the ball wide and their patient play was rewarded when 23-year-old wing Rabz Maxwane powered his way over the line to stretch the lead to 12-0.
But when Maxwane’s loose pass gifted Zebre possession, the Italians quickly broke through Carlo Canna who dispatched the ball to Edoardo Padovani to sprint to the line and score.
Then just two minutes later on his return from injury, Giulio Bisegni had the pace and experience to blitz his way to the try line and cross to draw his side level as Canna successfully converted.
Following the restart, the tries continued to rain down as van Rensburg clinched his second of the afternoon after the ball was worked quickly out to the 21-year-old to bash his way over.
Schoeman was inches from notching his side a bonus point, but the South African fly-half knocked on as he tried to reach for the line.
As the clock ticked down, Zebre became increasingly desperate to get back on level terms, but their eagerness was punished when George Biagi was sin-binned for collapsing the scrum.
From the resultant penalty, the Cheetahs struck to clinch the spoils as Reinach Venter rolled away from the rolling maul to dive over the line and claim the bonus point.
The man advantage proved vital once again as Franco Smith’s men powered their way over the line with the try going the way of Daniel Maartens for his third try of the campaign.