The inside track: where the game can be won and lost
Treviso v Ulster Pro12 League, Stadio Comunale di Monigo (Sun. 2.00pm)
Jonathan Bradley runs his eye over all the key battles and showdowns in tomorrow’s important clash in Italy.
Davide Giazzon v Rory Best
The 28-year-old Giazzon has won 20 Italian caps over the last two and half seasons although, as back-up to Leicester Tiger Leonardo Ghiraldini, the vast majority have come as a substitute.
It was Ghiraldini’s move to the Aviva Premiership that brought Giazzon to Treviso - he had spent the previous two seasons at Zebre - and he is an experienced figure in a relatively young side.
The Italian squads in the Pro12 have long been known to battle in the set-piece and, if Treviso are to gain a foothold in the game, then Giazzon will need to be accurate in the lineout while also taking responsibility for anchoring a front-row that also contains the inexperienced Matteo Zanusso and the long-time Gloucester prop Rupert Harden.
Ulster skipper Rory Best will have been pleased with how the lineout operated against Leinster last week and will look to maintain that standard tomorrow while his work as an auxiliary backrower at the breakdown is still crucial for his side if they are to achieve quick ball for the backs.
Alessandro Zanni v Clive Ross
Once described by Jamie Heaslip as the stand-out member of the Italian pack - a unit that contained Sergio Parisse no less - Zanni is something of a talismanic figure for Treviso.
Despite being only 30-years-old, Zanni has already won 86 caps for his country and will expect to play in his third World Cup later on this year.
The flanker has not had much rugby of late - this is his first start for the club since before the November internationals - but he remains a skilled operator at the breakdown.
The difference in experience levels at the openside position could hardly be more pronounced as Ulster field Clive Ross in the seven jersey for the fourth consecutive contest.
Ross’s move from an All-Ireland League player with Lansdowne last season to a professional environment continues with the 25-year-old still deputising for the absent Chris Henry.
While his game has been coming on at pace in recent weeks, he will know that Ulster cannot afford for him to give away as many penalties as he did against Leinster last week.
Michele Campagnaro v Darren Cave
Almost a year has passed since Michele Campagnaro lit up the first round of last season’s Six Nations with a brace of tries against Wales and, despite being just 21-years-old, he is now firmly established in the Italy midfield.
With 12 caps to his name, Campagnaro is one of Treviso’s internationals who did not jump ship over the summer and he remains an integral figure for his club.
A try-scorer in the crucial home victory to Zebre last week, the centre is blessed with pace as well as clever footwork and will be a dangerous player that Ulster must monitor if they are to succeed.
Darren Cave once again occupies the away side’s number 13 jersey and the 27-year-old impressed, admittedly in defeat, against Leinster last week.
A different type of centre, Cave will look to unlock the Italian defence with his subtle range of passing, although he still remains capable of beating his man with a step.
An important figure in the defensive gameplan of Johnny Bell, Cave’s organisational skills without the ball are always crucial.
The main threats
Ulster have struggled at times when visiting Treviso in recent seasons while, despite their lowly league position, the Italians come into the game having won two in a row.
A pair of victories over rivals Zebre during the festive period have the home side off the bottom of the table and on course to claim their place in next season’s Champions Cup.
In contrast, Ulster will enter the game low on confidence having lost six consecutive games away from home. As a result, a quick start will be imperative if nerves are not to come to the surface.
Treviso will look to take Ulster on up front but a backline that contains the likes of Kiwi Jayden Hayward and the young Azzurri trio of Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro and Luca Morisi will certainly pose problems.
Ulster have taken no chances with their team selection and have sent their strongest possible team to northern Italy. With players like Ruan Pienaar, Tommy Bowe and Stuart Olding, there should be plenty of firepower on display.
While they may not have the forward strength of old, Treviso are still able to field a pack that contains four players with Test caps.
Davide Giazzon, Alessandro Zanni, and Cornelius van Zyl have varying levels of experience with Italy and Tomas Vallejos has appeared for the Pumas - while Matteo Zanusso is well thought of and on the other side of the scrum Rupert Harden was not far away from an England cap during his Gloucester days.
As such, Treviso will look to win the battle in the set-piece and batter Ulster into submission. With New Zealander Dean Budd carrying hard from the base of the scrum, and a half-back pairing of Sam Christie and Edoardo Gori that are capable of keeping the game tight, Ulster will not expect their opponents to be overly expansive.
Much of Ulster’s game plan will depend on the ball their pack are able to deliver the backs. If Treviso are able to slow the breakdown, as teams have done against Ulster recently, then it will be difficult for the visitors to assert their backline superiority.
Stat attack: Treviso enter this game on a two-game winning streak thanks to their double success over Italian counterpartys, Zebre, during the festive period. The last time they went three games unbeaten was April/May 2013.
A bit of previous
Treviso’s last six results:
Treviso 17 Zebre 15**
Zebre 16 Treviso 26**
Edinburgh 48 Treviso 0**
Northampton 67 Treviso 0*
Treviso 15 Northampton 38*
Cardiff 36 Treviso 25**
Ulster’s last six results:
Ulster 29 Glasgow 9
Ulster 30 Edinburgh 0
Zebre 13 Ulster 6
Cardiff 9 Ulster 26
Ulster 33 Zebre 13
Scarlets 32 Ulster 32