Treviso out to prove they are worth place at the top table
While most of the attention from last week headed Zebre's way after their somewhat unexpected first ever PRO12 win at Cardiff Blues, Benetton Treviso were not to be entirely outdone after they put together a very respectable 29-19 victory over visiting side Munster.
True, the Irish province were the architects of their own downfall – having four players sin-binned was always likely to lead to a fairly ruinous outcome – but the Italians were in no mood to let their chance go after opening the season with defeats to the Ospreys at Stadio Monigo and then getting turned over at the Scarlets.
After achieving last season's high point of a seventh place PRO12 finish, Italy's strongest club side have been eager to push on and replicate, if not better, their efforts in the previous campaign.
That saw coach Franco Smith's squad come away with a 29-29 draw on their last visit to Ravenhill, while they wrapped things up in the regulation season with a record 41-17 away win at Scarlets.
Flanker Dean Budd was the hat-trick try scorer who stunned Ulster last March and much will be expected in long-serving Smith's last season in charge after Treviso won 10 of their 22 PRO12 games last time out. They reckon a win over Ulster is overdue and will happen at some point during this season's four clashes with Mark Anscombe's men.
It certainly doesn't look to have helped Smith's cause that he no longer has star back Tommaso Benvenuti about the place, the Italy international now playing his rugby with Perpignan, and Kris Burton's departure to the Dragons was also quite a blow, although Mat Berquist has been brought in from Biarritz and has already shown he can replace Burton's place-kicking accuracy.
Treviso, though, can still boast a strong squad with a very useful back row with Alessandro Zanni and Simone Favaro having a notable presence in this area and clearly there is an added desire to see Smith on his way after the South African's nine years at the club, both as a player and coach.
"I will be even more motivated this year," Smith (pictured) recently said, while admitting he had made his decision at this time to allow the club plenty of time to find a replacement.
"In my last year I would like to put the icing on the cake. I'll be much more determined and there is no doubt we will succeed," he added.
So, no pressure then? Well, the coach has certainly shown his faith in the side which saw off Munster by selecting an identical squad for tonight's clash, with flanker Budd doubtless itching to get involved after his heroics at Ravenhill last season.
Out half Berquist and full back Luke McClean will play key roles while winger Ludovico Nitoglia – who scored twice against Munster – will be hungry for opportunities and the chance to follow up last season's narrow loss to Ulster in Italy by again crossing the line, as he also did during the visitors' jittery 16-15 victory last November.
And with Connacht to come calling next week, Treviso's aim is to go into Europe off the back of a hat-trick of wins over Irish sides before they host Montpellier in the opening round of the Heineken Cup.
After giving Leicester Tigers a real fright away from Welford Road in last season's pool game, and beating the Ospreys, there is some optimism that Treviso can not only turn over Ulster but also the Tigers when they visit.
With all the apparent jostling for position over the future shape of all things European, Treviso have an overwhelming desire to show that an Italian club is worthy of a place at the top table.