After three months out with a shoulder injury, Nick Williams will make his Aironi comeback against the Dragons in Viadana on Sunday.
More than three months after injuring a shoulder, Nick Williams will make his comeback in the Aironi XV that will face the Dragons on Sunday.
The New Zealander played his last match on November 5 when Glasgow won in the same city. Despite this long period on the sideline, the five tries scored by Williams in the seven matches played still make him the leading try-scorer of the Italian side. His return gives Aironi more offensive options and also the chance to stabilise the pack.
There are two changes in the backs after last week's match in Swansea. Matteo Pratichetti will play on the wing, replacing Giulio Toniolatti who is called in by the Azzurri for the Six Nations match in Dublin. At the same time, Roberto Quartaroli returns from the national team to play outside centre alongside Gabriel Pizarro. Alberto Benettin is confirmed at full-back as Sinoti Sinoti is at 11.
No changes have been made in the half-backs, where Naas Olivier retains his place at fly-half and scrum-half Tito Tebaldi becomes the first player to reach 40 caps with Aironi.
It's not only number eight Williams who returns to boost the pack as Josh Sole is also back at blindside flanker, with Nicola Cattina completing the back-row. Joshua Furno and Carlo Del Fava are confirmed in the second-row and there are no changes in the front row, with Matias Aguero and Lorenzo Romano props and captain Roberto Santamaria hooking.
Meanwhile, the Dragons have made three changes to their starting line-up for the trip.
Joe Bedford has had to pull out with a shoulder injury; Wayne Evans comes into the scrum-half spot in his place and James Leadbeater is on the bench.
In the forwards there is a shuffle in the back-row. Darren Waters is rested after taking a knock so Gavin Thomas moves to openside flanker with Tom Brown promoted from the bench to start at number eight. The final change is in the front row where Phil Price starts at prop in place of Nathan Williams.
Bedwas' Royce Cadman is named on the bench to alleviate the Dragons' second-row injury problems. Cadman has been rewarded for his impressive performances in the Premiership this season and would make his RaboDirect PRO12 debut if he comes off the bench (his previous two appearances were in the LV= Cup).
Form: Aironi have won their last two home games in the RaboDirect PRO12 against Treviso and Connacht. The Italians are now out to beat a Welsh side for the first time. Dragons snapped a three game losing streak with their 21-10 victory over Edinburgh at Rodney Parade on Saturday night. Dragons have now gone a dozen successive away games in this tournament without a win since they won this equivalent fixture with Aironi in Viadana last February. Dragons have won all three previous fixtures with Aironi.
Aironi: 15 Alberto Benettin, 14 Matteo Pratichetti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Gabriel Pizarro, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Nicola Cattina, 6 Josh Sole, 5 Carlo Del Fava, 4 Joshua Furno, 3 Lorenzo Romano, 2 Roberto Santamaria (capt), 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Salvatore Perugini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Tyson Keats, 22 Emiliano Caffini, 23 Riccardo Pavan.
Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Adam Hughes, 13 Andy Tuilagi, 12 Ashley Smith (capt), 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Tom Brown, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Lewis Evans, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Jevon Groves, 3 Nathan Buck, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Phil Price.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Nathan Williams, 18 Dan Way, 19 Royce Cadman, 20 Hugo Ellis, 21 James Leadbeater, 22 Lewis Robling, 23 Will Harries.
Date: Sunday, February 26
Kick-off: 16:30 (15:30 GMT)
Venue: Stadio Zaffanella
Referee: Leo Colgan
Assistant Referees: Stefano Roscini, Giuseppe Vivarini
Citing Commissioner: Maurizio Vancini
TMO: Mauro Dordolo