Benetton Treviso host Munster at Stadio Monigo on Saturday at 19.05pm (local) as they look to stretch their lead over compatriots Zebre at the foot of the Guinness PRO12 table.
Munster can confirm their home semi-final spot with any victory in Italy as Rassie Erasmus’ men were left licking their wounds after European Champions Cup defeat last weekend.
What’s at stake?
Munster can secure home advantage in the end of season semi-finals as they go in search of the domestic title that has evaded them since 2011.
Treviso could climb as high as ninth with victory over second-placed Munster ahead of their final round showdown with Zebre.
Munster have won their last four matches in the Guinness PRO12 and will take confidence from their 46-3 win over the Italian outfit at the end of November.
Benetton Treviso team news: Head coach Kieran Crowley has made just two changes from the side that downed Edinburgh in Round 20.
David Odiete replaces the injured Luke McLean at full-back and is joined by Angelo Esposito and Luca Sperandio in the back three.
The other change comes in the midfield where Tommaso Benvenuti comes in to wear the No.13 jersey alongside Alberto Sgarbi in the midfield.
The pack remains the same from their victory last time out with captain Dean Budd leading the way alongside Marco Fuser in the engine room.
Munster team news: Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has made ten changes for Munster’s return to the Guinness PRO12 and has opted to introduce youth to the side for their clash in Italy.
Six of the British and Irish Cup winning Munster A squad are introduced to the side with Darren O’Shea and Conor Oliver in the starting XV and Kevin O’Byrne, Brian Scott, Rory Burke and Alex Wootton included in the replacements.
Billy Holland captains the side from second row and is the only forward to keep his place in the side.
Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue spoke of the threat Treviso pose having won last their two home matches in the league.
“They are on a really good run of form and have won their last two home games so it is going to be a big challenge for us,” he said.
“Every time we go over there it is a huge confrontation up front with the forwards so it is going to be a big challenge.
“We only need two points to secure a home semi-final so that is going to be our goal.
“We always want to reward our fans by getting a home semi-final we don’t want them travelling as we always have great support at home – that is our main focus.”
Key battle: David Odiete v Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo has been magnificent for Munster this season and a real security blanket for the Irish province under the high ball.
Zebo will relish going toe to toe with Odiete who comes in to replace Luke McLean after he performed well in their victory over Edinburgh.
The aerial battle may well give one side a major advantage in the game and the two full-backs will prove pivotal to their sides’ kick chases.
Key stat: Benetton Treviso have lost all seven games they have played against Irish provinces this season.
Did you know? The Munstermen have won their last 15 games against Italian opponents in all competitions.
Benetton Treviso top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66 Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4
Munster top points scorer: Tyler Bleyendaal 117 Top try scorer: Ronan O’Mahony 9
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Benetton won 3, Munster won 10.
At Stadio Monigo, 7.05pm local time (6.05 Ireland & UK). Live on Eurosport
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 63rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (WRU), Andrea Piardi (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Stefano Marrama (FIR)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (WRU)
Munster finished strongly in Italy to secure a 34-14 bonus-point win that keeps the pressure on Leinster in the battle for top spot in the Guinness PRO12
Darren Sweetnam and Simon Zebo crossed for Munster in a scrappy first-half display laced with errors.
Treviso’s David Odiete responded for the hosts in the second half, Munster burst into life scoring two quick-fire tries courtesy of Alex Wootton and Jack O’Donoghue to seal the win.
Sweetnam completed the Italian job adding his second late on to add some gloss to the scoreline in a tough battle in Italy but Treviso had time to respond with their second try in the final play.
It was a scrappy opening quarter at the Stadio Monigo with neither side able to dominate proceedings from the off.
Fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal – captain for the day after Billy Holland injured himself in the warm-up – kept the Italian outfit pinned in their own half but the visitors regularly coughed up possession.
The breakthrough came after 20 minutes when hooker Rhys Marshall broke the line and chipped over the Treviso defence, the bouncing ball popped up kindly for the supporting Donnacha Ryan who was stopped short of the line.
A few phases later, Munster made the most of numbers out wide and winger Darren Sweetnam dotted down in the corner to open the scoring in Italy.
Minutes later, Munster powered their way up to the Treviso 22 and, just when they were starting to be pushed back by the Italian side, Bleyendaal put Zebo through a gap and the Irish full-back raced away to score with the Kiwi fly-half adding the extras.
And on the stroke of half-time, Bleyendaal was again on hand to extend Munster’s lead to 15 points after the men in red won a penalty at the lineout.
The hosts rallied shortly after the break but a smart line break was followed up by a superb covering tackle by Zebo to keep the Italians out.
But Treviso full-back Odiete found a way through the red wall to put the Italian side on the board – fly-half Ian McKinley adding the extras.
The game became tense and neither side dominated possession in the 15 minutes that followed until Bleyendaal found good field position and Munster went direct.
A series of pick and goes shattered the Treviso ruck defence and tied in the Italian defenders, Francis Saili found replacement Wootton who crossed the whitewash in the corner – Bleyendaal failed to convert from a tight angle.
And No.8 O’Donoghue sealed the win as he scored Munster’s fourth try to ensure the men in red would return to Limerick with all five points.
O’Donoghue showed his power by handing off a Treviso defender and breaking away for the score to put Munster out of sight, Bleyendaal’s conversion put the Irish outfit 27-7 ahead.
And Sweetnam added his second in the last ten minutes when he arrived first to dive over the line having chased down his own kick.
But Treviso had the final say when replacement Jean-Francois Montauriol burrowed over in the last play.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final
28 Apr 2017
28 Apr 2017