Cardiff Blues welcome Zebre to Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday night hoping to leapfrog the Italian side in the Conference A table. Both sides fell to defeat in Round Seven of the Guinness PRO14 but Zebre only lost to the Toyota Cheetahs by a point and will fancy causing an upset in the Welsh capital.
What’s at stake? The Blues know that a win can could lift them as high as fourth in the Conference A table and will be keen to continue their good form having pushed Scarlets all the way last week and beaten Toulouse in the Challenge Cup. Zebre, meanwhile, have enjoyed an excellent start to their Guinness PRO14 campaign and a victory for them could put real pressure on the Cheetahs who currently lie third.
Team news (Cardiff Blues): Gethin Jenkins and Taufa’ao Filise return in the front-row whilst Macauley Cook and Damian Welch form the second-row, with Josh Turnbull starting at blindside flanker. Lloyd Williams and Steve Shingler form the halfback pairing whilst Aled Summerhill moves into the centre and Garyn Smith occupies the wing.
Team news (Zebre): Zebre’s defeat at the hands of the Cheetahs leads to just one change from head coach Michael Bradley who brings in Gabriele Di Giulio on the wing. The side boasts seven Italian internationals in the starting XV with Dario Chistolini and Renato Giammarioli set to appear from the bench. Another replacement, Andrea De Marchi, will be looking to make history on Saturday and become the first Zebre player to reach 100 appearances for the club.
Talking points: Blues head coach Danny Wilson is pleased to have some selection dilemmas: “We have some senior players back and bolstering up-front that we’ve needed.
“That gives us a few selection decisions to make as opposed to perhaps not having them to make, so that’s pleasing.
“I’ve been really impressed with the changes at Zebre. From analysing the team, they’re bordering on being unrecognisable from what we’ve seen in the past.
“They’re playing a very different brand of rugby and have completely changed their approach. They’ve got some good personnel and athletes in there now and it’s going to be a new challenge for us.
“We’re keen to get back to winning ways, at home. We need to show what we showed out in Toulouse, against Lyon and in the second half against Dragons.”
Key Battle: Steve Shingler vs Carlo Canna
Shingler returns at stand-off this week after starting on the bench in the Welsh derby against the Scarlets, and will look to link up with halfback partner Williams to create space for the backline. The Welsh fly-half goes up against the experienced Italy playmaker Carlo Canna, who almost kicked his side to a historic victory last week and is keen to make his mark ahead of the Azzurri’s autumn campaign.
Key Stat: The Blues have won their last two matches at the Arms Park, both with try bonus points, against Dragons in the Guinness PRO14 and Lyon in the European Challenge Cup.
Did you know? The Welshmen have not lost to an Italian opponent since a visit to Treviso in February 2016.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully; Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Taufa’ao Filise; Macauley Cook, Damian Welch; Josh Turnbull, Ollie Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Corey Domachowski, Keiron Assiratti, George Earle, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Ben Jones, Tom James
Zebre: Matteo Minozzi; Giulio Bisegni, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Castello, Gabriele Di Giulio; Carlo Canna, Marcello Violi; Sami Panico, Oliviero Fabiani, Eduardo Bello; Leonard Krumow; Valerio Bernabo; Giovanni Licata, Johan Meyer, Derick Minnie
Replacements: Luhandre Luus, Andrea De Marchi, Dario Chistolini, Jacopo Sarto, Renato Giammarioli, Guglielmo Palazzani, Serafin Bordoli, Ciaran Gaffney
TV: Live on S4C at 7.35pm
Match officials – Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU), AR1: David Wilkinson (IRFU), AR2: Mike English (WRU), Citing Commissioner: Jeff Mark (WRU), TMO: Neil Hennessey (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
Cardiff Blues got back to winning ways on Saturday night with a comprehensive five-try win over Italian side Zebre.
Lloyd Williams was the first to strike for the Blues when they signalled their intentions by running the ball out from their own 22.
Rampaging centre Willis Halaholo also strode over the line in the first half and Welsh international Matthew Rees got his name in lights just after the interval.
Matthew Morgan and Tom James crossed late on for the Blues, which still left time for Guglielmo Palazzani to get a consolation for the visitors.
The side from the Welsh capital came into the game knowing that a win would lift them above Zebre in Conference A and looked in control right from the off.
After just six minutes the home side had the first score of the evening, with Halaholo feeding Williams on the left and the scrum-half racing away 70 metres to touch down.
Minutes later Carlo Canna swept over a penalty from 25 metres out but the Blues kept pushing to extend their advantage – with James and Steve Shingler both coming close to the line.
On 19 minutes the hosts displayed the penetration they were looking for with a set move finding Halaholo on a scything line back inside that took him past Canna’s challenge and 40 metres to the tryline.
The centre was only able to touch the ball down in the corner but Shingler added an impressive conversion before notching two penalties that gave the Blues an 18-3 half-time lead.
The Welsh side remained on the front foot after the break and were rewarded on 52 minutes with a try for hooker Matthew Rees.
A superb Shingler kick found touch five metres out from the Zebre line and Rees was able to burrow over from the back of the resultant driving lineout.
There was fight from Zebre but the home side were in no mood to let up and got the bonus point on 62 minutes with Morgan passing to winger Blaine Scully and then receiving the same pass back as he crossed the line.
Five minutes later and it was five tries for the Blues with James racing away down the left to get his name on the scoresheet.
Despite being 37-3 down the Italian side pushed hard to register a try in the final five minutes and achieved their target when Palazzani took a quick penalty to batter his way over the line from ten metres out.
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