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Preview: Cardiff Blues v Zebre

19th September 2013 11:41

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Leigh Halfpenny Cardiff Blues

Starts: Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny will make his first appearance of the season for Cardiff Blues after being named in the side that will face Zebre on Friday.

Halfpenny, who was named Player of the Series for the Lions after the tour, is one of six changes for Blues for the fixture with the Italian outfit.

Chris Czekaj is called in on the wing while Lewis Jones will make his first start of the season at nine where he is paired with Rhys Patchell.

A new-look pack will see Marc Breeze start at hooker as Matthew Rees is named among the replacements.

Wales international Lou Reed is named in the second-row, with Bradley Davies suspended for two weeks following a league disciplinary hearing in Edinburgh.

Andries Pretorius will captain the team from the back-row where he is joined by Macauley Cook who comes into the team at blindside flanker. Cory Allen and James Down are also named among the replacements.

Cardiff Blues won both encounters with Zebre last season, with the Italians claiming a losing bonus point in Parma in November. However, Director of Rugby Phil Davies admits he has been impressed by Zebre this season and they led table toppers Munster 18-9 at half time in their match last weekend.

"Zebre are a much improved outfit and they have shown in the opening weeks of the season that they are not to be underestimated," said Davies.

"They have recruited strongly with New Zealand international Brendon Leonard at half back and have the likes of Italian international stalwarts Marco Bortolami and Mauro Bergamasco marshalling the team.

"We were impressed with the way Zebre played against Munster last weekend. They also have a massive pack and they will bring real physicality to the contest.

"The team selected to start is primarily the side that finished the game with Connacht. That is because we want to keep continuity and build on the momentum we had at the end of last week's game," he added.

"However, it is also crucial that we give players in the squad opportunities to feature so we can build that depth we need in the squad."

Meanwhile, Zebre have made six changes to their side that will face the Welsh region, with four of those coming in the backline.

Into the team come right wing David Odiete, centres Tommaso Iannone and Matteo Pratichetti and left wing Dion Berryman while Mauro Bergamasco and Dario Chistolini also start at blindside and tighthead respectively.

"The last game against Munster we had a performance drop in the second half," said head coach Andrea Cavinato.

"We believe that it came from a lack of habit of playing at this high pace with such long sequences. We didn't realise points during all our offensive actions, while the Irish side have scored during quite all of their efforts.

"Every Zebre fan must trust in this team and we are confident of seeing continuous improvements."

Form: Cardiff Blues' 21-10 victory at home to Connacht on Friday ended a three game losing streak. The Welshmen are going for a third successive home victory for the first time since they returned to the Arms Park. Cardiff Blues have never lost at home to an Italian side in any competition since the region was formed in 2003. Zebre's last four games have all been against Irish opponents, whilst their most recent fixture with a Welsh Region was when they visited the Arms Park in April and lost 13-28. The Blues won both encounters with Zebre last season, with the Italians claiming a losing bonus point in Parma in November.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Chris Czekaj, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Andries Pretorius (c), 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Taufa'ao Filise.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Benoit Bourrust, 19 James Down, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Cory Allen.

Zebre: 15 Ruggero Trevisan, 14 David Odiete, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Dion Berryman, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'Apice, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Luca Redolfini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.

Date: Friday, September 20
Kick-off: 19:30 BST
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)

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