Benetton Treviso achieved their best finish in the Guinness PRO14 for four years last season, but there is still plenty of work to do before they become play-off contenders.
However, optimism is high in Treviso and the Italian side are ready to take the next step this year.
They have a squad full of young talent and, in Kieran Crowley’s second season in charge, they will be expecting to compete for a top-half finish in the new-look PRO14.
Treviso have never ended a campaign in the top half of the division since joining in 2010, with seventh their highest-ever finish in 2013.
That year they won ten of their 22 matches, but have not won more than five in a season since.
They finished bottom of the pile in 2016, but Crowley made an immediate impact last term – steering them to tenth, above rivals Zebre and the Dragons.
Originally from New Zealand, Dean Budd has made quite the splash at Benetton Treviso and will begin the campaign as captain.
The 31-year-old flanker has spent five years with the club, winning 88 caps, and has become one of the most feared back-rows in the league – with his fierce tackling and powerful runs blasting through the opposition.
Budd played in New Zealand’s Provincial Championship for Northland, while also training with the Blues before moving to Italy in 2012.
He made his Test debut for the Azzurri against Scotland earlier this year.
Kieran Crowley joined Treviso a year ago and made an impressive start to his Pro14 career.
The New Zealander was a talented full-back as a player, featuring more than 200 times for Taranaki and 19 times for the All Blacks.
Taranaki was his first break into coaching and he remained there for nine years before taking over the New Zealand U19 side in 2007.
That was followed by an eight-year spell in charge of Canada, where he led them to two successive Rugby World Cups.
Along with captain Budd, Abraham Steyn is a powerful option in the Treviso back row and offers pace and strength in abundance.
The Italian international is a classy operator and looks right at home on the international stage, impressing against England in the Six Nations earlier this year.
If Treviso are to make the next step forward then Steyn will be crucial to the cause, with the potency he offers in attack and resilience in defence a key component in Treviso’s game.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Marty Banks’ arrival is one of the biggest deals in the Guinness PRO14 this summer and he should offer plenty of attacking thrust to Crowley’s side.
The 27-year-old initially signed on the dotted line ahead of last season before his arrival was delayed due to personal reasons – but he is here for good this year and ready to hit the ground running.
The fly-half has played all over the world, including Russia and Tasmania, but it is with Super Rugby giants the Highlanders where he has made his name.
He enjoyed two strong seasons in Dunedin and now joins Treviso at the peak of his powers.
Like all Italian sporting venues, the Stadio Comunale di Monigo produces an electric atmosphere and is one of the most intimidating venues in the Guinness PRO14.
Although small in size, it generates an almighty racket with 6,700 fans packed in and it is no wonder that rival teams always find it find it one of the trickiest away games in the league.
The stadium’s record attendance is 10,000 when Italy hosted Scotland in 1998.
Treviso’s biggest rivals in the Guinness PRO14 are fellow Italian side Zebre, and happily for them they have enjoyed the better of their intriguing ding-dong.
Matches between the two are tightly contested and incredibly intense, but last year’s winners-takes-all play-off for a Champions Cup place this season was the biggest match the pair have ever contested.
Treviso edged to a 19-3 win, with Ian McKinley kicking 14 points, and they join Scarlets, Bath and Toulon in Pool 5 of the Champions Cup this season.
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