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Preview: Zebre v Cardiff Blues

23rd November 2012 10:51

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Lloyd Williams passing for Cardiff Blues

Blues: First time facing Zebre

The Blues will look to set the tone with a win against this year's newcomers, Zebre, when they fly to Italy in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Cardiff Blues have never faced this Italian side, however, the Blues have won all 14 previous matches they have played against Italian opponents in all competitions.

Despite losing the last four PRO12 matches, the Blues will be looking to re-group and turn their performance record around on foreign soil.

There are a number of changes to the starting XV with a complete re- structuring of the front row. Trevett, Williams and Filise start with Hobbs and Breeze returning to the bench for this Italian encounter. Benoit Bourrust also returns, having recovered from a calf injury as the final front row replacement.

Rory Watts-Jones makes the starting XV at six, partnering captain Josh Navidi, who is playing at openside flanker with Robin Copeland at number eight.

The backs see the return of Dafydd Hewitt at inside centre with Gavin Evans moving to thirteen and Owen Williams to the wing. Ceri Sweeny returns to the starting XV at ten, bringing experience to a youthful team.

Rhys Patchell resumes his position on the replacements bench alongside Michael Patterson who has recently returned after a long term absence due to two shoulder operations.

Speaking about the impending encounter, Phil Davies describes the new Italian side as a 'tough nut to crack'.

"They're a clever team, a typical Italian team in some ways. They have a strong set piece and a very clever re-start game. They keep the ball well and they have a clever kicker who orchestrates the game superbly."

Looking at the Blues overall performance over the past few weeks, Davies is looking to this young team to put what they have learnt into practice.

"All the learning we have been doing over the past few weeks needs to be shining through on Sunday in respect to us being a bit more accurate, taking the opportunities and closing the game," he said.

"It's about approaching each match with a clear head and pushing forward."

Meanwhile, Zebre sporting director Robert Manghi highlighted the need for progress from his young side when they take on Cardiff Blues in the RaboDirect PRO12 on Sunday.

"The Zebre are born from a group of youngsters who need experience. They represent the best Italian players that we could put together and grow to be as competitive as possible," he said.

"These youngsters are giving us a lot of satisfaction, improving week on week. Unfortunately the results aren't coming because there is still something lacking when we come up against squads structured like Ulster who played in the Heineken Cup final last year and is unbeaten this season.

"On the pitch we were pretty even and already this result is important in the perspective of our future. Of course it's nicer to come off the pitch with a smile after a win rather than having lost in the dying minutes.

"We can't lie to the players, but we are working to improve the squad. About 80 per cent of these players were in the academies last year and need to work on the physical side of things.

"A lot of them are capable of reaching the highest level, and even the national team, Italy needs them. After a season of suffering like this one, I'm confident that, working on development, something important will be born. Our missed kicks cost us the draw or even the win."

Form: Zebre came within a whisker of gaining a first ever win in Parma on Sunday in the rearranged fixture with tabletopping Ulster, leading 25-20 with just five minutes left, only to concede a converted penalty try. Cardiff Blues have slipped to four straight defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12. The Blues have won all 14 previous encounters they have played against Italian opponents in all competitions. The two sides have never met before.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Gonzalo Garcia (capt), 12 Samuele Pace, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Nicola Cattina, 6 Filippo Ferrarini, 5 Filippo Cazzola, 4 Josh Sole, 3 David Ryan, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Luca Redolfini, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Filippo Cristiano, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Paolo Buso, 23 Ruggero Trevisan.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Owen Williams, 13 Gavin Evans, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Josh Navidi (c), 6 Rory Watts-Jones, 5 James Down, 4 Macauley Cook, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Rhys Williams, 1 Nathan Trevett
Replacements: 16 Marc Breeze, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Benoit Bourrust, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Andries Pretorius, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tom Williams.

Date: Sunday, November 25
Kick-off: 14:00 (12:00 GMT)
Venue: Stadio XXV Aprile
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)

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