Cardiff Blues return to Guinness Pro14 action for a weekend as John Mulvihill’s side travel to Treviso to take on Benetton in a Conference B clash.
Both sides have had a disappointing start to the season, impacted by the Rugby World Cup, and are at risk of slipping out of the race for the play-offs even at this early stage of the campaign should another loss be forthcoming on Saturday.
It’s a fixture that has always had a strong link to international breaks with Cardiff Blues winning four of the last five games between the two sides, all four of which have been played during either the Autumn Internationals or the Six Nations.
However, last season’s game was played in September and Benetton emerged victorious in Treviso, despite back row Robert Barbieri not receiving a red for a forearm fend to the throat of Lloyd Williams. Pro14 referee chief Greg Garner subsequently admitted he should have been sent off.
Neither side has had the ideal start to European competition over the last two weeks, with Cardiff Blues falling to Leicester after an opening round win over Calvisano, while Benetton have been defeated by Leinster and Northampton.
However, last week’s game against the English side went down to the wire, and only some suspect refereeing saw the Saints come away with a 32-35 win, with Benetton outplaying them for the vast majority of the game.
There are just four changes to the Italians starting XV on the back of that performance, with Alberto Sgarbi captaining the side from centre, 14-cap Italy international Nicola Quaglio in at loosehead, South Africa U20 lock Irne Herbst joining Eli Snyman, and Marco Lazzaroni starting at blindside flanker.
Benetton: Jayden Hayward; Ratuva Tavuyara, Ignacio Brex, Alberto Sgarbi (c), Monty Ioane; Tommaso Allan, Dewaldt Duvenage; Nicola Quaglio, Hame Faiva, Marco Riccioni, Irné Herbst, Eli Snyman, Marco Lazzaroni, Abraham Steyn, Toa Halafihi
Replacements: Federico Zani, Cherif Traore, Tiziano Pasquali, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Tito Tebaldi, Ian Keatley, Luca Sperandio
Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of picking from a full squad, with six players involved in the Wales squad taking on the Barbarians in an unnecessary international game at the Principality Stadium.
With 11 players also on the injury list, John Mulvihill has had to make eight changes to his starting XV, including James Ratti making his full Cardiff Blues debut, James Botham making his first Guinness Pro14 start, and Hallam Amos making his first league start since a summer move from the Dragons.
Elsewhere Kirby Myhill gets the nod at hooker, Brad Thyer starts at loosehead, Macauley Cook joins Ratti in the second row, Josh Turnbull drops to blindside with Will Boyde at number eight, Jason Tovey starts at fly-half, Garyn Smith is in at centre and Matthew Morgan returns at full-back.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith, Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams (c); Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Scott Andrews, James Ratti, Macauley Cook, Josh Turnbull, James Botham, Will Boyde
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Gill, Keiron Assiratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Alun Lawrence, Lewis Jones, Ben Thomas, Jason Harries
With all the unavailable players and the strength of the Benetton side, this Saturday’s game is going to be incredibly tough. Whether there’s a chance of getting the win is up for debate, with perhaps the best bet being to aim to score four tries and see what that coughs up.
We know that the players will work hard for 80 minutes though, and perhaps with the pressure off a bit they can relax and play some expansive and attacking rugby. Come on Cardiff!