Teams are up for the first match of our Italian double header on Saturday as Ulster take on Benetton Rugby in Treviso.

James Hume will make his first start at while last week’s debutant, Robert Baloucoune, shook off a groin problem and starts on the right wing.

In the loose it’s a strong front row. Rob Herring didn’t make the trip to Chicago and starts at hooker alongside Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore. Alan O’Connor captains the side from the second row and is partnered by Kieran Treadwell who impressed last week. The back row is strong and more familiar and an area where Ulster should have the upper hand. Nick Timoney returns to the starting team after missing the Dragons victory, while Marcell Coetzee and Sean Reidy are the flankers.

It’s a first start for Hume, but he has the experienced Stuart McCloskey on his inside. With Baloucoune starting on the right wing, Benetton may look to attack that 13-14 channel due to the inexperience of both players. Michael Lowry limped off last week with a quad contusion and doesn’t feature while Peter Nelson starts in his place alongside Henry Speight and Baloucoune in the back three. Billy Burns was rested for the visit of the Dragons and returns to the starting team alongside the ever-improving Dave Shanahan.

Benetton were roundly defeated by Leinster 31-3 in Treviso last week. Leinster rotated their side but still fielded a strong team due to their superb strength in depth. Benetton on the other hand were without their Italian internationals and don’t have the same resources. An early Adam Byrne try set the tempo for the game and Leinster never looked back.

It was always going to be difficult for Benetton against Leinster, but they did not help matters through poor decision-making. The rain made handling difficult last week and with more rain forecasted for Saturday, I can’t see this game being particularly easy on the eye either.

Last week Benetton were sitting third in Ulster’s conference but after their defeat, they have slipped down to fifth, level on points with Edinburgh who host Scarlets tonight. They made a strong start to the season with two wins over the Dragons and Cardiff in their opening matches. They’ve picked up three try bonus points – one more than Ulster – with Italian veteran Alessandro Zanni leading the charge with three tries alongside flanker Braam Steyn and Luca Sperandio. Zanni is the only one of the three featuring tomorrow.

With elusive winger Monty Ioane absent, Benetton will rely on Tommaso Benvenuti and Iliesa Ratuva on the wings. However, they are boosted with the inclusion of Tommaso Allan after he didn’t make the Italy squad. He starts at out half for the side from Treviso and has been a regular feature in the side this season. Allan likes to run the ball but is also able to kick for territory. If Treviso win, I think he will play a massive part in the match.

The FRU predicts: Both sides have been forced into rotation due to the match in Chicago and while I would say that Ulster have the better strength in depth, they generally do not travel well. I’ll tip Ulster by a couple of points in an arm wrestle of a match but would be in no way surprised if Benetton win. Ulster’s back row needs to show its quality.

Benetton Ulster
Jayden Hayward 15 Peter Nelson
Iliesa Ratuva 14 Robert Baloucoune
Juan Ignacio Brex 13 James Hume
Alberto Sgarbi 12 Stuart McCloskey
Tommaso Benvenuti 11 Henry Speight
Tommaso Allan 10 Billy Burns
Dewaldt Duvenage 9 Dave Shanahan
Derrick Appiah 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Epalahame Faiva 2 Rob Herring
Simone Ferrari 3 Marty Moore
Irne Herbst 4 Alan O’Connor
Alessandro Zanni 5 Kieran Treadwell
Dean Budd 6 Marcell Coetzee
Michele Lamaro 7 Sean Reidy
Marco Barbini 8 Nick Timoney
Tomas Baravalle 16 John Andrew
Alberto de Marchi 17 Andy Warwick
Marco Riccioni 18 Tom O’Toole
Niccolo Cannone 19 Clive Ross
Giovanni Pettinelli 20 Greg Jones
Edoardo Gori 21 Jonny Stewart
Antonio Rizzi 22 Johnny McPhillips
Angelo Esposito 23 Angus Kernohan

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