Rise of Benetton is good for Pro14, says Pat MacArthur

Glasgow Warriors will be hoping to put a stop to the mini Benetton Treviso revival as emphatically as possible at Scotstoun on Friday night, but hooker Pat MacArthur can't deny that an Italian renaissance would only be good news for the Guinness Pro14 competition.

Benetton Treviso, in green, got the better of Edinburgh at Myreside earlier this month. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU

Treviso registered a second win on the bounce as they beat Ospreys 16-6 at home a week after they had stunned Edinburgh 20-17 at Myreside.

With Zebre, who are now coached by former Edinburgh boss Michael Bradley, thumping the struggling Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, the last fortnight has been one in the eye for those who felt the Italian presence in the league was becoming untenable, especially following the introduction of the South Africans and talk of further expansion into North America.

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Treviso and Aironi, who have since been replaced by Zebre, joined the Celtic set-up in 2010-11, with the former finishing above Glasgow in that season. Two years later Treviso enjoyed a best-ever seventh place finish, well above Edinburgh, but since then they and Zebre have languished in the bottom two slots, except last season when the Dragons split the pair in 11th spot.

In conversation with The Scotsman at last month’s Pro14 launch in Dublin, the tournament’s chief executive Martin Anayi was full of support for the Italian sides and expressed confidence that they could soon be making strides 
forward.

Anayi cited the financial backing of the Benetton family to Treviso, with a push to rename the club solely in the name of the global fashion brand this season. He also pointed to new Italy coach Conor O’Shea’s prioritising of making the Guinness Pro14 teams more competitive as an important step towards improving the fortunes of the national side.

Friday’s visit to Scotstoun will shed some light on whether or not the recent Benetton bounce under Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley is a blip or the start of a genuine progress, but MacArthur is hopeful that the Italian side continues to thrive, once this weekend is over and done with.

“It’s good for the league, without a doubt,” said the 30-year-old hooker. “The more strength in depth and the more competition there is the better. It is the same with all teams getting better and progressing, you see that within Europe as well.”

Even when struggling for results, the Italian sides have always been relied upon to provide a demanding shift for opposition front rows and MacArthur has enjoyed a fair few ding-dong battles with them in his career. He insists Treviso’s recent form has certainly not come as a surprise to him.

“Not at all, I have stood here before and said that, as a front-row forward, it is one of the toughest games of the year for me,” he said. “You know what you are going to get – you are going to get a confrontational, hard team.

“It is an enjoyable game to play, you always walk off knowing you have played in a good game of rugby. It [them winning last two] does not surprise me, they have been 
pushing teams hard for the last couple of years.”

George Turner started in the No 2 jersey in last Friday’s win over Munster and, with Scotland man Fraser Brown back to fitness this week, the relentless competition for game time continues for MacArthur but it is something he is well used to.

“We have got a big squad, a strong squad. We want to be sure that whoever gets a chance to play in that jersey, there is a minimum standard that they have to play at,” he said.

“Then you can change the team and see a heightening in intensity because that is your chance to show how good you are and everybody wants to take their chance. That is 
brilliant that Fraser is back fit, it is the way that rugby progresses.

“It shows the progress over the last few years – if you think back over the last seven or eight years then the strength in depth was not there but now you are looking at three internationalist in one position fighting for the one spot and trying to show that they are the best in that position.

“Everyone goes out there to do that, knowing that if you are not performing to drawbacks then that plenty of 
others waiting to step up and the have their shot.”