How Zebre plan to tame Lions
URC ROUND ONE – TEAM AND PREDICTION: There is excitement and anticipation in the air ahead of the opening match of this new Trans-Hemisphere competition.
The players and coaches from all the teams make no attempt to hide their appetite and ardour for the United Rugby Championship.
It starts at Lanfranchi Stadium, in Parma, on Friday – with Italian franchise Zebre hosting the Lions.
The two other Friday games are Cardiff versus Connacht at the Arms Park and Ulster against Glasgow Warriors at Kingspan Stadium, in Belfast.
But it is in Parma where the spotlight will shine brightest.
Zebre coach Michael Bradley displayed just how serious they take this competition and the occasion by naming a team that includes 10 Italian international players for the tournament opener.
The starting XV features players like Azzurri captain and hooker Luca Bigi, along with fellow tight forwards Danilo Fischetti and David Sisi, loose forward Maxime Mbanda, scrumhalf Marcello Violi, flyhalf Carlo Canna, along with wings Mattia Bellini and Pierre Bruno.
However, South African players in the wider squad – Erich Cronjé and Italian international Johan Meyer – are not in the matchday squad.
Bradley explained that it is among the forwards where they need to take on a Lions team that has the same brutal approach to the game as all South African outfits.
“This is probably the biggest front row we have seen in Parma, ever,” the Irishman told @rugby365com.
“That is the cornerstone of how they have played recently – they put a lot of pressure on the opposition in the set pieces.”
He said they expect an abrasive approach from the visitors.
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Bradley said they are up for the challenge.
“The blueprint for playing against all South African sides is: ‘If you don’t take them on physically, in all aspects of the game, then you will have a long day at the office.’
“We are mindful of that.”
He said they will stick to tactics that worked for them in the past – bringing a lot of pressure through attack and retaining the possession.
“We will try to move the ball and, where there is no opportunity to explore the spaces with the ball in hand, we will use the boot intelligently,” the Zebre coach said.
Lions skipper, Burger Odendaal, also spoke about the “excitement” of the new venture – with the bulk of the squad never having played in Italy.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen said the ‘big challenge’ was to channel the excitement into “accurate execution” on the field.
After an emasculated Currie Cup campaign, the Lions’ focus has been on their “systems” and “intensity” – with the new panel of assistants making valuable input.
Van Rooyen is supported by Albert Van den Berg (forwards and line-out coach), Ricardo Loubscher (backline, attack and skills coach) and Jaque Fourie (defence coach).
Despite having plenty of Rainbow Cup footage and a pre-season outing at their disposal, the Lions spent 80 percent of their focus on their own structures.
He spoke of some of the law changes that will favour the kickers – such as the new 50-22 trial law.
“We have a great kicking ability at No.9, No.10 and No.15,” Van Rooyen told @rugby365com from the team’s base in Parma.
He admitted that they will probably be “a little bit more conservative” in the opening rounds, keeping it “simple and clear” and not cloud the players’ minds in the initial stages.
Van Rooyen added that they made contact with some of the South Africans in Italy, to get an idea of what to expect from Zebra – who is being coached by former Ireland mentor Michael Bradley.
“They like to play a tempo game,” the Lions coach said, adding their hosts enjoy keeping the ball through multiple phases.
Below is all the teams and predictions for the Friday games!
Friday, September 24
Zebre v Lions
(Lanfranchi Stadium, Parma – Kick-off: 18.35; 16.435 GMT)
@rugby365com: Zebre by nine points
Zebre: 15 Junior Laloifi, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Matteo Nocera, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Ion Neculai, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Jacopo Trulla.
Lions: 15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Ruan Dreyer.
Replacements: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Eddie Fouche, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Riccardo Angelucci (Italy), Federico Boraso (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
Cardiff v Connacht
(Cardiff Arms Park – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Cardiff by five points
Cardiff: 15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Harries, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Turnbull (captain), 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Corey Domachowski.
Replacements: 16 Liam Belcher, 17 Rhys Carré, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Max Llewellyn.
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler (captain), 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Ultan Dillane, 4 Oisin Dowling, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Shane Delahunt, 1 Matthew Burke.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Niall Murray, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Hubert Gilvarry, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Sammy Arnold.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Elgan Williams (Wales), Steff Edwards (Wales)
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors
(Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 18.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Ulster by 14 points
Ulster: 15 Ethan McIlroy, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Greg Jones, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Brad Roberts, 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Matty Rea, 21 Nathan Doak, 22 Mike Lowry, 23 Will Addison.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Cole Forbes, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 George Horne, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Richie Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Brad Thyer.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Jamie Dobie, 22 Ross Thompson, 23 Ollie Smith.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland), Andrew Cole (Ireland)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)