Benetton Rugby will take on Edinburgh at the Stadio Monigo on Saturday in a crucial Guinness PRO14 Conference B match-up. After their European break, the teams will head to Treviso looking for victory in the game which kicks off at 3pm local time.
What’s at stake? The two teams are level on points with 14 from six games, having won three and lost three to date. It’s the Scots who are ahead on points difference, as they sit fourth, with Benetton in fifth. While it is still very early in the season, as it stands this would be a crucial battle for the European play-off spot in Conference B.
Team news (Benetton Rugby): Benetton have made three changes to the team that lost in heartbreaking fashion to Toulon last week with starts for Tito Tebaldi, Marco Fuser and Francesco Minto coming into the starting line-up. Arguably the biggest storyline, however, is the return of Alessandro Zanni to the bench for the Italians after more than a year out with injury.
Team news (Edinburgh): Richard Cockerill has made eight changes to the team which won away to Krasny Yar in Russia last weekend. Among those coming back in are Phil Burleigh, who was called up by Scotland this week, while Dougie Fife gets a nod on the wing. Fraser McKenzie also comes back in the second row, and will captain the side after being named full-time skipper by Cockerill.
Talking points: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne missed out on Scotland’s autumn internationals squad, with teammate Nathan Fowles preferred to him. Against Benetton it will be Hidalgo-Clyne who gets the starting role, with Fowles on the bench and the scrum-half will no doubt be keen to prove a point.
Key Battle: Abraham Steyn v Hamish Watson
It may have ultimately been in a losing cause but Abraham Steyn was outstanding for Benetton against Toulon, making 14 carries for 62 metres, while also chipping in with 12 tackles. His battle with Hamish Watson could be an intriguing one, with the Edinburgh openside looking to cement his place in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland thoughts.
Key Stat: Benetton handed Edinburgh their first defeat of the season in Round 3, claiming a 20-17 win at Myreside to end Richard Cockerill’s unbeaten start to life in the Scottish capital.
Did you know? Benetton have lost just once in their last four Guinness PRO14 encounters, going down 37-21 to Glasgow Warriors.
Benetton: J Hayward, A Esposito, I Brex, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio, I McKinley, T Tebaldi, F Zani, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, D Budd, F Minto, A Steyn, R Barbieri
Replacements: T Baravalle, C Traore, T Pasquali, F Ruzza, A Zanni, S Negri, G Bronzini, T Benvenuti
Edinburgh: B Kinghorn, D Fife, J Johnstone, P Burleigh, J Harries, J Tovey, S Hidalgo-Clyne, D Marfo, S McInally, WP Nel, F McKenzie, B Toolis, L Crosbie, H Watson, C du Preez
Replacements: N Cochrane, M Rizzo, M McCallum, G Gilchrist, L Carmichael, N Fowles, G Bryce, C Dean
TV: Eurosport Italia 2 (KO: 3pm local)
Match officials – Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU), AR1: Gwyn Morris (WRU), AR2: Claudio Blessano (FIR), TMO: Sean Brickell (WRU)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Dougie Fife crossed twice in the second half as Edinburgh gained their revenge on Benetton Rugby with a 24-13 win at the Stadio Monigo.
It was the Italians who had ended Richard Cockerill’s unbeaten start to the Guinness PRO14 season back in Round Three, and for periods of this game, they looked like they might complete the double over the Scots.
But Fife popped up twice in the final 20 minutes to allow Edinburgh to pull clear and earn a vital victory in Conference B.
Edinburgh had started the better with an early try for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne but Benetton fought back before the break with two Ian McKinley penalties.
And when Angelo Esposito finished a great team try, it was the home side who led for the first time. Edinburgh responded immediately with a score from Fife, followed by a Jason Tovey penalty, and when Fife crossed again, there was no way back for the home side.
Benetton were dealt an early blow when hooker Luca Bigi was forced off with less than two minutes gone, replaced by Tomas Baravalle.
And with three gone, Edinburgh had taken the lead with a well-worked try.
After a scrum, Edinburgh went through the hands, with Blair Kinghorn slicing through then finding James Johnstone. He fed the ball back inside to Hidalgo-Clyne for the simplest of run-ins. Tovey converted to make it 7-0, with Edinburgh off to a flyer.
They had the better of much of the opening half, notably with a dominant scrum as WP Nel caused Federico Zani lots of problems.
However, Tovey was off-target with a shot at goal, after Edinburgh had already turned down one shot at the posts.
Their cause looked to be made easier when Benetton lost Francesco Minto to the sin-bin, the flanker penalised after stopping Hidalgo-Clyne from taking a quick tap penalty.
But that appeared to galvanise the home side and they were able to work their way back into the match.
First, McKinley slotted a penalty for a high tackle and then in the dying stages of the half, Nel was caught going off his feet at a ruck and the fly-half added three more to cut the deficit to a single point at the break.
Back up to a full complement shortly after half-time, Benetton carried their momentum with them and produced some sublime skill to take the lead for the first time.
Around midfield, Ignacio Brex put in a delightful kick through off the outside of his boot, with Luca Sperandio collecting after some hesitation in the Edinburgh defence. The ball was then quickly recycled and spread back to the right where Esposito was able to race over. McKinley’s conversion made it 13-7.
That lead was short-lived, with Edinburgh hitting back almost immediately. On his 50th appearance for the side, Kinghorn threatened again, drawing in one man then beating another with a clever pass out of the back of the hand to put Dougie Fife over. Tovey converted from the touchline to make it 14-13.
He added another penalty soon after, with McKinley’s equivalent effort coming back off the posts for the home side.
That seemed to take the wind out of Benetton and again, it was the combination of Kinghorn and Fife that set up try number three, with the winger finishing a perfectly-orchestrated two-on-one.
Benetton thought they had earned a last-second losing bonus point when Sperandio went over but he had put a hand in touch before dotting the ball down.
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie