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Zebre look to bounce back against Edinburgh

Sean Kennedy

Zebre welcome Edinburgh to Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi at 11am GMT on New Year’s Eve, as the hosts look to recover from their defeat to Italian rivals Benetton Treviso last time out.

What’s at stake? Zebre are two points adrift at the bottom of Guinness PRO12 after Treviso’s triumph last Friday, but would drag themselves right back into the mix with victory.

A bonus-point win would take them to within a point of tenth-placed Edinburgh, who are looking to kick a three-game losing streak in the PRO12 – with their latest defeat coming in the 1872 Cup to Glasgow Warriors.

Should Edinburgh prevail they could feasibly enter 2017 ahead of Newport Gwent Dragons in ninth.

Team news (Zebre): Injury has hindered Kurt Baker’s time in a Zebre shirt so far but the former New Zealand 7s captain will make his long-awaited debut on the wing on Saturday.

The two other changes to Zebre’s team are among the backs, as inside centre Faialaga Afamasaga is set to start in the Guinness PRO12 for the first time with Italy international Tommaso Boni on his outside.

Team news (Edinburgh): Acting head coach Duncan Hodge has made six changes to the side that lost to Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield, split evenly between the forwards and the backs.

Will Helu lines up on the wing, former Western Force back Junior Rasolea comes in at inside centre, and Sean Kennedy takes the reins at scrum-half.

In the front row Alasdair Dickinson swaps out at loosehead for Allan Dell, Fraser McKenzie packs down in the second row and the promising Jamie Ritchie is given the nod on the openside flank.

Talking points: Both teams will be hoping to wipe the slate clean on the final day of 2016 after difficult campaigns so far.

And there is reason for optimism in both camps. Zebre are going for the double as their first Guinness PRO12 victory this season was away to Edinburgh.

But the Scots are clearly capable of so much more as a week after that defeat, they responded by toppling high-flying Ulster.

“(Zebre) are a physical outfit and always raise their game in front of their home crowd, so there’s no doubt we’re in for an challenging encounter in Parma,” Hodge said.

Key Battle: Magnus Bradbury has been in superb form for Edinburgh this season as, from flanker, the 21-year-old quite incredibly leads the league in defenders beaten (33) this year.

Defensively the Scotland rookie has also been on point, registering 118 tackles through the first 11 games, therefore it will be vitally important to Zebre’s chances that their back-row unit slows him down.

Certain to be involved heavily is Dries van Schalkwyk, who is ever a threat with ball in hand and has been one of the Italians’ stand-out players this season.

 Key stat: Something has to give in Parma – Edinburgh are yet to pick up a league point on their travels while Zebre have not won at home all season.

On an historical basis, Edinburgh hold the advantage with five wins to four in their nine meetings to date, but all signs point to a tight one.

 Did you know? Four of Zebre’s 14 Guinness PRO12 victories have been against Edinburgh whilst the only other side they have achieved a league double over was Treviso in season 2015/16.

 Zebre: E Padovani; K Baker, T Boni, F Afamasaga, G Venditti; C Canna, M Violi; A Lovotti, T D’Apice, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, G Biagi; D Minnie, J Meyer, A van Schalkwyk
Replacements: C Festuccia, G Roan, P Ceccarelli, J Furno, F Ruzza, G Palazzani, M Pratichetti, M Bellini.

 Top Points Scorer: C Canna 57. Top Try Scorer: G Venditti 4.

Edinburgh: B Kinghorn; D Hoyland, C Dean, J Rasolea, W Helu; D Weir, S Kennedy; A Dell, R Ford, S Berghan; F McKenzie, B Toolis; M Bradbury, J Ritchie, C Du Preez.
Replacements: N Cochrane, J Cosgrove, M McCallum, L Carmichael, V Mata, N Fowles, J Tovey, G Bryce

Top Points Scorer: D Weir 55pts. Top Try Scorer: M Bradbury 4.

At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 12pm local time (11am UK & Ireland) Live on Eurosport
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU, 26th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (FIR), Filippo Bertelli (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Achille Reali (FIR)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU)

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