Friday night sees Cardiff Blues re-arranged game against Benetton take place at the Arms Park, as the season’s final block of fixtures get underway with another crucial Guinness Pro14 fixture.
After three straight wins over Cheetahs, Munster and Zebre, Danny Wilson’s men have hauled themselves back into play-off contention, as well as holding onto fourth place and the all-important automatic Champions Cup qualification spot.
A win on Friday would see us close the gap on Cheetahs above us to six points at the most, and extend our advantage over Connacht to a minimum of eight points. As well as the statistical advantage though, it would be a boost at the start of a run of games that will take us through the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Edinburgh.
The omens are in Cardiff’s favour, having never lost to Treviso at home, and the last three scorelines at the Arms Park in this fixture having an aggregate scoreline of 149-53.
However, Benetton have turned a corner this season, and actually sit higher than Cardiff Blues in a combined league table. Although both teams have identical won eight, lost eight records, Treviso have more league points courtesy of two more try bonus points.
As travelling to Italy gets ever trickier, only Ulster, Leinster, Edinburgh and Connacht have beaten Benetton at home this season, while wins at Zebre, Edinurgh and Dragons, as well as losing bonus points at Ulster and Scarlets, mean they are already 16 points ahead of last season’s final total.
With Ulster just seven points ahead of them, they will be hoping to secure at win at the Arms Park on Friday to keep up the challenge for the Champions Cup play-off spot in Conference B.
They will have to do that without a number of players though, as Italian national team coach Conor O’Shea has named 11 Benetton players in his matchday squad for their Six Nations game against Scotland, while three other players have been retained.
Only fly-half Ian McKinley has retuned to Treviso’s 23, and will take his place on the bench as coach Kieran Crowley makes just one change to the backs that lost to Connacht last time out with Giorgio Bronzini starting at scrum-half.
Up front there is a start for former New Zealand U20 hooker Hame Faiva while Italian international Marco Fuser joins South African Irne Herbst in the second row and another Baby Black in Nasi Manu starts at number eight with Francesco Minto and captain Marco Barbini at flanker.
Benneton Rugby: Luca Sperandio, Michael Tagicakibau, Tommaso Iannone, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Marty Banks, Giorgio Bronzini; Federico Zani, Hame Faiva, Matteo Zanusso, Marco Fuser, Irne Hebst, Francesco Minto, Marco Barbini (c), Nasi Manu
Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Riccardo Brugnara, Cherif Traore, Marco Lazzaroni, Engjel Makelara, Ian McKinley, Alberto Sgarbi, Andrea Bronzini
Cardiff Blues, meanwhile, will be missing internationals of their own as Josh Navidi and Gareth Anscombe have been named in the Wales squad to take on France at the Principality Stadium, while Anton Peikrishvili is with the Georgia squad as they prepare to play Romania.
They have been boosted by the release of Ellis Jenkins, Seb Davies and Tomos Williams though, with all three taking a place on the bench having not trained with the squad this week and only had their releases confirmed on Thursday morning.
Overall there are six changes to the starting XV that beat Zebre three weeks ago, as experienced props Gethin Jenkins and Fa’ao Filise return to pack down alongside Kirby Myhill.
Joining them in the forward pack are Macauley Cook and Nick Williams, facilitating a reshuffle behind the front row as Josh Turnbull switches from number eight to second row alongside George Earle, and Cook starts on the blindside.
After three games of no changes, Danny Wilson has chosen to bring two players into the backline as Matthew Morgan and Willis Halaholo return to fitness and the lineup. The injured Rhun Williams drops out of the 23, while Rey Lee-Lo takes a seat on the bench.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kirby Myhill, Taufa’ao Filise, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Macauley Cook, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Rhys Gill, Scott Andrews, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Steven Shingler, Rey Lee-Lo
A solid looking line-up for the Cardiff Blues, and one that indicates an expansive style of play after the tight and physical encounter that took place in Parma last time out.
Interestingly the XV names Josh Turnbull at lock, with Macauley Cook on the flank, with Cook given license to attack in the wide channels, as he likes to do, with Turnbull then targeted with patrolling the middle of the field on attack.
Nick Williams and George Earle will the be tasked with making the hard yards in midfield, while a fully fit Willis Halaholo after minor knee surgery is an exciting proposition, especially against a side he scored tries against in both games last season.
With the likes of Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams and Rey Lee-Lo all ready to come off the bench, there is no reason why Cardiff Blues can’t continue our domination over Benetton Treviso at the Arms Park.
Come back from a few weeks off with the accuracy, intensity and speed that was apparent in our best moments against Munster and Cheetahs, and a big performance could be in store. So get down to CAP on Friday night and support the boys. Come on Cardiff!
Cardiff Blues form: WWWWW
Benetton form: LLWWL
Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Matthew Morgan (5)
Benetton top try scorer: Monty Ioane (9)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Jarrod Evans ()
Benetton top points scorer: Ian McKinley (72)
John Lacey (IRE) – A name that can strike fear into the hearts of rugby fans everywhere. However, Cardiff Blues have won our last four games with Lacey in charge, including a 57-20 victory in this fixture last season.