Calvisano v Cardiff Blues | European Rugby Challenge Cup | Saturday 16th November 2019
Cardiff Blues: LLLLW
The Italian champions started their 2019/20 Top12 campaign well with three straight wins to put them top of the table in the early stages.
However, a surprise loss away at Rovigo, another former Cardiff Blues Challenge Cup opponent, last weekend has seen them slip down to fourth as they break for European and domestic cup competitions.
Cardiff Blues 74-6 Calvisano – 22/01/2016
Calvisano 9-50 Cardiff Blues – 14/11/2015
Cardiff Blues 62-20 Calvisano – 23/01/2009
Calvisano 20-56 Cardiff Blues – 11/10/2008
Cardiff Blues 43-16 Calvisano – 17/12/2005
It’s been a fairly one-sided head-to-head with Cardiff Blues winning all six encounters between the sides. In fact, Calvisano have only won five of 72 European games played in their history.
The double header in December 2005 is a particularly famous set of games as the great Jonah Lomu made his Cardiff Blues debut in Italy. It is said that the number of journalists almost outnumbered the amount of supporters at the Pata Stadium that day.
Calvisano: Kayle Van Zyl, Simone Balocchi, Giacomo De Santis, Damiano Mazza, Marco Susio; Paolo Pescetto, Federico Consoli; Riccardo Brugnara, Gabriele Morelli (c), Lorenzo Cittadini, Adam Wessels, Michael Van Vuren, Matteo Archetti, Nardo Casolari, Samuela Vunisa
Replacements: Matteo Luccardi, Lorenzo Michelini, Piermaria Leso, Gabriele Venditti, Antoine Koffi, Fabio Semenzato, Alberto Chiesa, Facundo Panceyra-Garrido
The Italians make six changes to the team that lost to Rovigo last week, most notavly removing the experience of Italian international scrum-half Fabio Semenzato and club captain Alberto Chiesa on to the bench, with Federico Consoli and Simone Balocchi taking their places.
A new centre partnership and changes at tighthead and hooker, where Gabriele Morelli captains the side from, are also made as head coach Massimo Brunello looks to start his side’s Challenge Cup campaign well at home.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Jason Harries, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Haloholo, Harri Millard, Jarrod Evans, Lewis Jones; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Keiron Assiratti, Josh Turnbull (c), Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Seb Davies
Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Alun Lawrence, Lloyd Williams, Dan Fish, Ben Thomas
The majority of the Cardiff Blues changes come in the pack where only Josh Turnbull, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Seb Davies survive, with the latter switching to number eight. James Botham gets the nod on the blindside for a European debut.
In the backs three switches see Lewis Jones start at scrum-half, Willis Halaholo come in at centre with Jarrod Evans reverting to fly-half, and Jason Harries replace Aled Summerhill on the wing.
Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Alun Lawrence and Ben Thomas could all make their European debuts off the bench, with Davies-King, Ratti and Thomas making their first senior appearances in any competition.
Player to watch
Samuela Vunisa is a name that may be familiar to supporters of Glasgow Warriors and Saracens after the number eight spent two years at each club.
Having won a number of Italy caps as well he has plenty of top level pedigree, and at just 31 is not quite in the same boat as the likes of team-mate Fabio Semenzato who has taken a step down to semi-professional rugby right at the end of his career.
What the coaches said
“We have picked a strong squad with a real mix of youth and experience with others getting their first opportunity to start this season.
“It is vitally important that we get some continuity and build momentum going into next week against Leicester Tigers, while giving some players a rest and others a chance to stake a claim.
“It’s also brilliant to name some exciting youngsters on the bench in Will Davies-King, James Ratti, who joined Cardiff RFC from the Ospreys in the summer, Ben Thomas and Alun Lawrence, who made his senior debut last week.”
“Calvisano have earned the right to be in this competition and we certainly won’t take them lightly. We have done a lot of homework on them and their last three games in particular. Every team has strengths and weaknesses, which we have identified, and they have a number of players who have had recent PRO14 experience with Zebre.
“They have a massive pack with a strong mauling game, and they win a lot of penalties from their scrum, while they also have some dangerous targets in the backs. This is the biggest game of their season so they will have no shortage of motivation and there will be a lot of excitement in the stadium.
“But we’ve also really focused in on ourselves this week and while we know we cannot take anything for granted, it is vital that we get off to a positive start in the competition.
“We were really pleased to get the win last week and we felt much more like ourselves in large areas of the game. There are still areas we need to improve and now in a new competition we need to continue that and build some confidence.”
John Mulvihill, Cardiff Blues Head Coach
Craig Maxwell-Keys started his European fixture refereeing this exact game back in 2015, where seven Cardiff Blues try secured a comfortable win out in Italy.
With 19 Challenge Cup and 67 Gallagher Premiership games under his belt he has plenty of experience at just 28, and isn’t too keen on showing cards with just three reds produced in total.