WARRIORS have made eight changes to the team which started in last week’s victory over Treviso. Stuart Hogg has been rested but they still have a highly potent back three, with in-form Glenn Bryce taking over the number fifteen jersey, Tommy Seymour returning on the right wing, and Taqele Naiyaravoro apparently looking particularly hungry during training this week on the left wing.
With Alex Dunbar coming in for Mark Bennett at outside centre, the visitors have replaced a master at hitting the right angles with a ball-carrier more used to bouncing off shoulders. It remains to be seen which version is more effective, but one thing is for sure: the ability of the new-look half-back partnership of Duncan Weir and Ali Price to pick the right options will be crucial to whether the Warriors’ exciting backline end up coming onto the ball at the right times.
In the pack, it is same again in the front-row, but Leone Nakawara will add an exciting dimension to the boiler house; while the selection of Rob Harley and Ryan Wilson, instead of Josh Strauss and Adam Ashe in the back-row, gives an indication of the strength in depth in this squad when everybody is fit.
Zebre have lost stand-off Kelly Haimona and back-rowers and Jean Cook Johan Meyer to injury, but welcome second-rower Valerio Bernabo, winger Dion Berryman and flanker Filippo Cristiano back from injury, while centre Gonzalo Garcia also makes his first appearance since before a sterling Six Nations campaign.
Leonardo Sarto, who will join the Warriors in the summer, starts on the left wing for the Italians.
The hosts are on a seven match losing streak reaching back to the start of January, and haven’t managed to score a point (whilst conceding 108) in their last three games. They haven’t won at home since defeating fellow Italian strugglers Treviso on the day after Boxing Day – which is only one of three wins at home in this entire league this season.
Warriors, on the other hand, are the reigning league champions and have as close to a full squad available to them as they could hope for at this time of the season. They are on a six match winning streak and after a week of team building and training away from the vagaries of Scottish Spring weather, there is absolutely no excuse for allowing this one to slip through their fingers.
THE LOWDOWN –
VENUE: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
KICK-OFF TIME: 7.30pm on Friday 8th April
Zebre: K Van Zyl; D Berryman, M Pratichetti, G Garcia, L Sarto; C Canna, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, D Christolini, Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami, E Caffini, F Ruzza, G Koegelen berg. Subs: B Postligioni, A De Marchi, P Ceccarelli, V Bernabo, F Cristiano, L Burgess, G Bisegni. U Beyers.
Warriors: G Bryce; T Naiyaravoro, A Dunbar, P Horne, T Seymour; D Weir, A Price; G Reid, F Brown, S Puafisi, l Nakawara, J Gray, R Harley, S Favaro, R Wilson. Subs: P MacArthur, J Yanuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, G Peterson, A Ashe, H Pyrgos, F Russell, M Bennett.
KEY BATTLE: Gonzalo Garcia versus Peter Horne
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
““When we alternate between playing by hand and kicking we can put any team under pressure. At the moment we are perhaps playing a little more conservatively. We need to try to vary our game a bit more. The squad is coping well from every point of view. We have everything we need, so we should be able to focus only on playing. We are going through a tough period, like we’ve gone through some great times …” – Gianluca Guidi (Zebre)
“Stress is an interesting concept. We know how hard we have to work, but is that stress or excitement? It keeps you on your toes. We have players like our captain, Jonny Gra, back and we have had some good conversations about rugby which has allowed us to focus on our run of games. Being away together has given that extra boost to the players that are here …” – Gregor Townsend (Warriors)
VERDICT: Warriors must win – with bonus poin