Zebre host Scarlets at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday at 3.05pm as the Welsh side aim for a seventh consecutive Guinness PRO12 win.
What’s at stake?
Scarlets moved into the top four after a shock victory over Leinster last week and could close the gap on Ospreys should their Welsh counterparts drop points.
Zebre have yet to build on their superb victory in Edinburgh in October, their first this term, but will be rested following last week’s postponement in Ulster.
Team News (Zebre):
Second-row forward Quintin Geldenhuys skippers the hosts after Italy’s autumn series saw Zebre pick up four injuries – including club captain George Biagi.
Team News (Scarlets):
Head coach Wayne Pivac has the luxury of welcoming back two internationals to a starting line-up that includes four changes from their victory over Leinster.
DTH van der Merwe and Jonathan Davies return in the back line while Tadhg Beirne and Tom Price bolster the Scarlets pack from the second row.
However, former Crusader Johnny McNicholl will be sidelined for much of December after undergoing emergency surgery for an ‘acute medical complaint’.
Talking Points: Though Zebre host the league’s in-form team, Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac does not expect an easy ride from the Parma-based oufit.
“Traditionally we’ve gone out there for the four points but it’s been a very difficult task,” said Pivac.
“The challenge for us is to go out there and generate the same atmosphere we’d have had home within our own camp and make sure that the boys are up for it and motivated.
“They’re really excited by the fact they’ve been able to turn around the slow start to the season. To be six on the trot is no mean feat. The boys are in a good space.”
Key Battle: Carlo Canna v Rhys Patchell
After steering the Azzurri to a historic victory over the Springboks this autumn, fly-half Carlo Canna comes up against the league’s top points scorer in Rhys Patchell.
The Scarlets have added fire power in their back-line this week but it will be up to Patchell to release them in space.
Key Stats: Scarlets have won six on the bounce while Zebre are looking for a first home win this campaign.
Lions Contenders: Wales centre Jonathan Davies is the pick here as, back in a Scarlets jersey this season, he will be looking to put his foot down through the winter to stake his claim for a second Lions tour following his success in Australia in 2013.
Did you know?
Zebre have yet to beat Scarlets in eight attempts, managing just one draw in 2013/14.
Zebre: Berryman, Bellini, Boni, Castello, Venditti, Canna, Violi; Van Schalkwyk, Meyer, Minnie, Ruzza, Geldenhuys (cap), Chistolini, D’Apice, Postiglioni
Replacements: Festuccia, De Marchi, Roan, Koegelenberg, Bernabò, Palazzani, Pratichetti, Padovani
Top points scorer: Carlo Canna 41 Top try scorer: Giovanbattista Venditti 3
Scarlets: Thomas, van der Merwe, Davies, Parkes (cap), Evans, Patchell, Evans; Jones, Elias, Kruger, Beirne, Price, Shingler, Davies, Boyde
Replacements: Phillips, Evans, Lee, Ball, Macleod, Davies, Jones, Owen
Top points scorer: Rhys Patchell 71 Top try scorer: Liam Williams 3
Overall Guinness PRO12 record: Played 8, Scarlets won 7, drawn 1.
At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 3.05pm local time (2.05pm UK & Ireland). Live on Eurosport
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 47th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry (IRFU), Filippo Bertelli (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Francesco Grillo (FIR)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Scarlets have now won seven successive Guinness PRO12 games as Jonathan Evans went over for two of five tries in a 31-24 win at Zebre.
Heading to Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi Scarlets had won six games in a row, while Zebre were still awaiting their first win at home this season.
But early on it looked as though fortunes might be reversed as the boot over Carlo Canna had the home side 9-7 in front.
However, that was as good as it got for the Italians as Aaron Shingler and DTH van der Merwe added to Evans’ earlier Scarlets score.
And after the break Aled Davies and Evans grabbed a second, before Zebre showed their fighting spirit by going over themselves late on through Federico Ruzza and Giovanbattista Venditti, with a Canna penalty at the death earning them a losing bonus point.
Zebre hosted Scarlets having never beaten then in eight attempts, but took an early lead thanks to a third-minute drop goal from Canna.
The hosts had started brightly and a kick in behind from centre Tommaso Boni looked to get them in behind but Hadleigh Parkes managed to get to the ball first.
Canna then sent over a penalty just outside the Scarlets 22 to double Zebre’s lead, but on 12 minutes the Welsh side nudged ahead as scrum-half Evans stole the ball and raced away to dot down, Rhys Patchell adding the extras.
However the home side were not rolling over and midway through the half Canna sent over another drop goal to restore their lead.
But while Zebre were struggling to trouble the tryline their visitors were having no such trouble as Shingler went over for the Welsh side’s second of the first half on 33 minutes.
Good hands from Tadhg Beirne and Van der Merwe saw the flanker go over, with Patchell adding the extras once again.
And just before the break Scarlets had their third try, this time Van der Merwe went over following some slick handling, with Patchell converting for a 21-9 half-time lead.
Five minutes after the restart Scarlets had the bonus point secure as Jonathan Davies broke away before full-back Aled Davies finished the move off, Patchell failing with his kick for the first time in the game.
And five minutes later the Welsh side were celebrating again as Evans went over for his fifth of the season following a fortunate bounce and Scarlets’ fifth of the afternoon.
To Zebre’s credit they never gave up, but a forward pass following a line out on the Scarlets 10m line halted their progress on the hour mark.
However they did have a try on 64 minutes as a long Canna pass to Edoardo Padovani saw No.8 Ruzza go over for a converted score.
And with ten minutes left the home fans were on their feet again as Venditti went over, with Canna’s late penalty earning the home side a losing bonus point.
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