Belfast Telegraph

Cavinato eyes Ulster as Zebre hunt down a victory

By Michael Sadlier

The journey back from Ireland seemed longer than normal which though it was hardly a surprise was still, nevertheless, difficult to stomach.

After all the two heavy away defeats to Ulster and Munster – a grand total of 64 points were shipped – had somewhat punctured the pre-season optimism that maybe this time Zebre could step things up a gear.

Indeed, putting the Ireland 'mini tour' down to just one of those unfortunate happenings that can take place away from home hardly brought much consolation as Zebre's opening game saw them go down 41-26 to Cardiff Blues in Parma which sees them one off the bottom thanks to a healthier points differential from their even more dire local rivals Treviso.

Should things actually finish in this way then, thanks to the restructured European competition, Zebre would actually qualify for the Champions Cup as there is one automatic Italian place for the side which finished above the other in the PRO12.

And maybe herein lies a new problem for Italian rugby. After all, where is the motivation to attack the PRO12 with gusto if all one has to do to make the premier European structure i finish above your local rival?

It's certainly an issue but, in the short-term, coach Andrea Cavinato is in need of lifting the mood as Zebre stare down the barrel at the possibility of a fourth straight defeat today.

It all ended so differently last season with a notable run of four unbeaten games at their Stadio XXV Aprile, but they will have certainly taken heart from this weekend's opponents, particularly in view of how close they have come over the last two years to getting one over on Ulster who seem to have, almost traditionally, sent out a less than full strength squad to northern Italy.

It was narrow enough last November and the previous season it took a last minute penalty from Niall O'Connor to save Ulster so Zebre will have looked at this fixture as having more than just possibility while the Italians also have two further home games to come with Ospreys and Leinster yet to arrive in Parma. In fact it's four home encounters as Zebre's first game in the European Challenge Cup is also at the Stadio when Oyonnax visit on October 18 in a difficult looking pool for Cavinato's squad who also face Gloucester, London Irish and Brive.

Cavinato has tweaked his selection for today's clash with an entirely different starting front row to the one he put out at Thomond Park while the rest of the pack stays intact with the side led by experienced second row Quintin Geldenhuys.

The Italians will doubtless be looking for another muscular performance from powerhouse number eight Samuela Vunisa, while the hugely experienced flanker Mauro Bergamasco will attempt to be an inspirational figure if he can stay the right side of the referee.

In the backs winger Leonardo Sarto returns from injury while, on the bench, they have Gonzalo Garcia and Luciano Orquera ready to be sprung into action which just might have the desired effect if the game is close going into its closing stages.

Zebre know only too well that if they are to replicate, or indeed surpass, last season's notable scalps then this batch of home games must bring results.

Belfast Telegraph

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