The second week of 2018/19 Guinness Pro14 action sees Cardiff Blues head on the road for the first time this season to take on Benetton in Treviso.
It is the first part of the ‘Italian Job’, with Zebre in Parma to be played next week, as John Mulvihill’s men face two crucial games despite the season still being in it’s infancy. After last Friday’s thrown away win against Leinster, two defeats in Italy would seriously derail a play-off bid.
However, coming back from the mini South European tour with two wins and at least 10 league points on the board would be a huge confidence boost heading into all-important all-Conference A clashes with Cheetahs and Munster at the end of the month.
To do that we’ll need to beat a vastly improved Benetton side this Saturday night, a side who’s 11 wins and 55 points from last season was the same as their combined total from 2014-2017.
After a summer of stability, in which there was relatively little transfer activity at the Stadio Communle di Monigo, the major news was keeping hold of former All Black head coach Kieran Crowley who worked well alongside national coach Conor O’Shea.
This saw them hit the ground running last week against Dragons at Rodney Parade, with their forward play providing the basis on which they scored three tries in Newport on the way to winning 17-21.
They will be confident of adding to that tomorrow night too, with a decent record against Cardiff Blues in Treviso that has seen them win three of the last five games against Wales’ Capital Region.
However, Mulvihill’s squad can take confidence from the fact that last time we made the trip to this particular part of Northern Italy we came away with a 28-34 victory thanks to the boot of Steve Shinger alongside tries from Macauley Cook, Willis Halaholo and Rhun Williams.
Benetton coach Crowley has made four changes to the starting XV that beat Dragons last week, with the experience of Italian internationals Federico Zani, Marco Barbini and particularly 106 times international capped Alessandro Zanni missing from the engine room.
They do retain the danger men in the backs though, as Tito Tebaldi, Tommaso Allan, Tommaso Benvenuti, Monty Ioane, Jayden Hayward line up and will look to dominate Cardiff Blues on home turf.
Benetton Rugby: Jayden Hayward, Ratuva Tavuyara, Tommaso Benvenuti, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi, Robert Barbieri, Abraham Steyn, Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd (c), Marco Fuser, Tiziano Pasquali, Hame Faiva, Nicola Quaglio
Replacements: Engjel Makelara, Cherif Traore, Simone Ferrari, Irne Herbst, Marco Lazzaroni, Marco Barbini, Dewaldt Duvenage, Marco Zanon
John Mulvihill, meanwhile, only makes the one change to his Cardiff Blues starting XV, and it comes without an option as Seb Davies misses out with a knee injury and is replaced by George Earle.
There is a bit of a re-shuffle on the bench though as Dillon Lewis takes Scott Andrews spot as tighthead cover, while there are returns to the matchday squad from Josh Navidi, who returns from the shoulder injury picked up in Bilbao, and Gareth Anscombe, who came back into pre-season late.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Kristian Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins (c), Nick Williams
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Rhys Gill, Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe, Garyn Smith
It will be an intriguing clash of the styles on Saturday night, with Benetton attempting to impose their power game on Cardiff Blues, while we try to play at a fast tempo and move the big Italians around the field, as well as implement our blitz in defence.
The Dragons downfall came last week in that a poor defensive performance, both in terms of organisation and commitment, allowed Benetton to get into the right parts of the pitch to show off their forwards game.
For Cardiff Blues, the battle will be as much mental as it is skillful, but after a huge defensive effort last week there should be no issues, assuming bodies have recovered after making a lot of tackles against Leinster.
If we can get that right then our attacking game is more than capable of securing a win, then it’s a week of enjoy the piazzas, the pasta, the ice cream, the Birra Moretti, and the fast cars. I’m not jealous at all.
As Skinny sort of said on the actual Italian Job, ‘if there’s one thing I know, it’s never to mess with Mother Nature, Mother-in-Laws, and mother freaking Cardiffians’. Come on Cardiff!
Benetton form: W
Cardiff Blues form: W
Benetton top try scorer: Alessandro Zanni (2)
Cardiff Blues top try scorers: Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo (2)
Benetton top points scorer: Alessandro Zanni (10)
Cardiff Blues top points scorer: Jarrod Evans (12)
Sean Gallagher (IRE) – Young Gallagher is a member of Navan RFC in Leinster, where John Mulvihill coached at the turn of the century. Has refereed Cardiff Blues on two occasions, a home win over Zebre, and an away win against the Southern Kings.