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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Benetton Treviso v Ulster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Benetton Treviso v Ulster

Ulster have lost just once in 14 meetings with Italian opposition over the years, and they will want to extend that impressive record by beating a Benetton Treviso side that turned them over at Ravenhill earlier this season.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 24

BENETTON TREVISO (9th) v ULSTER (5th), Stadio di Monigo, 4.15pm local time/3.15pm Irish time (live Rai Sport 2/BBC Northern Ireland red button)

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Team News: Brian McLaughlin has made five personnel changes and one positional switch to his starting team for Ulster’s RaboDirect PRO12 game against Benetton Treviso.

Ulster have been boosted by Johann Muller (calf) and Darren Cave (foot) both returning to action after two months on the sidelines.

Captain Muller has not featured since the Heineken Cup pool clash with Clermont Auvergne on January 21, while Cave has been unavailable since the previous week against Leicester Tigers.

Ian Humphreys has been recalled to the starting line-up so Ruan Pienaar switches back to scrum half at the expense of Paul Marshall.

Cave will partner Paddy Wallace in the centre, while the back-three of Stefan Terblanche, Craig Gilroy and Adam D’Arcy is unchanged from the last outing against Edinbugh.

Up front, Tom Court returns from International duty to join Andi Kyriacou and John Afoa in the front row, with Muller partnering Dan Tuohy in the engine room once again.

Pedrie Wannenburg has been ruled out by illness, so the back row unit is comprised of Chris Henry, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack.

Ireland players Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris have been rested after starting every match of the 2012 Six Nations.

Ulster have had two weeks without a game, following their 38-16 win over Edinbugh at the beginning of the month.

Meanwhile, with a number of Italian internationals back on board, Franco Smith has selected a much-changed Treviso starting line-up for the Ulster game.

Treviso lost 20-13 at home to the Cardiff Blues last time out. In a rejigged back-three, top try scorer Brendan Williams (five tries) is now stationed at full-back, with Tommaso Iannone on the right wing and Ludovico Nitoglia moving to the left.

The returning Alberto Sgarbi and Gonzalo Garcia have been paired together in the centre, while Willem de Waal and Fabio Semenzato make way at half-back for Kris Burton and Edoardo Gori respectively.

Antonio Pavanello is back to captain the side alongside second row partner Corniel van Zyl, who is the only surviving member of the front five that started against Cardiff.

The experienced Alessandro Zanni and Robert Barbieri are straight back in to join Manoa Vosawai in a powerful back row combination.

BENETTON TREVISO: Brendan Williams; Tommaso Iannone, Alberto Sgarbi, Gonzalo Garcia, Ludovico Nitoglia; Kris Burton, Edoardo Gori; Michele Rizzo, Enrico Ceccato, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello (capt), Corniel van Zyl, Manoa Vosawai, Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri.

Replacements: Franco Sbaraglini, Matteo Muccignat, Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, Valerio Bernabò, Francesco Minto, Gonzalo Padrò, Fabio Semenzato, Alberto di Bernardo.

ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Stefan Terblanche; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Andi Kyriacou, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Alan Falzone, Carlo Damasco (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Stefano Marrama (Italy)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Benetton Treviso to win: 8/5; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 1/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “The players are feeling rejuvenated after a few weeks off. We are into the final phase of the season now and all the games are vital so it’s important they feel fresh.

“We want to claim a play-off spot in the PRO12 and we also have Europe on the horizon, so it’s easy to get the players motivated.

“Johann is a superb leader and it’s always great to have him available. He is a great lineout forward and he will lift others around him with his presence.

“We felt that Darren deserved a chance to come back in and show what he can do because he was playing really well before the injury.

“We are very strong in the centres and Ian (Whitten) and Nevin (Spence) have done a tremendous job over the past couple of months, so it was a tough decision.

“We looked at Paul and Ruan as our half-backs but when Ian is on form, he is the best organiser in the team and he really gets us going and helps us play the brand of rugby we want to play.

“Pedrie has been ruled out due to illness but we expect him to be back for next week against Aironi. It will be important to have everyone fit and available going into the business end of the season.”

Franco Smith (Benetton Treviso) – “It’s great we’ve got the boys back together now. The national team players had a good win last weekend and they’ll bring a bit of positivity and urgency to the team.

“After playing Leinster, Munster and the Scarlets we needed a bit of a break. They were tough games which we put a lot into because we wanted to do well.

“Particularly for those guys who weren’t used to playing so often, the two weeks off were helpful. We worked a lot on our physique and the guys went for it like it was the start of the season, but we’re happy the games are back.

“The international guys coming back have found a team which has worked hard and are physically in good shape.

“Leonardo Ghiraldini is 50-50 but the others are all fit and in form. They’ve immediately displayed their desire and want to play for the team and that was very pleasing.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Benetton Treviso – Points: Kris Burton 111; Tries: Brendan Williams 5; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 105; Tries: Darren Cave 4


Friday, November 26, 2010 – Benetton Treviso 9 Ulster 19, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, January 7, 2011 – Ulster 32 Benetton Treviso 13, Ravenhill
Friday, October 7, 2011 – Ulster 12 Benetton Treviso 23, Ravenhill


– Benetton Treviso are without a win in 2012, slipping to seven straight defeats in all competitions since the turn of the year

– Treviso beat Ulster 23-12 at Ravenhill in round 6 of the RaboDirect PRO12 and are going for a first ever season’s double over non-Italian opponents

– Ulster’s only defeat in their last six PRO12 encounters was a 21-14 loss to the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park on February 17

– Ulster have won just once on the road in the league since September, beating Edinburgh 42-20 at Murrayfield on January 6

– The Ulstermen’s record against Italian sides in all competitions is won 13, lost 1