This week, we take an in-depth look at Zebre Rugby Club, who have been drawn in Challenge Cup Pool 4 alongside Bristol Bears, Enisei-STM and La Rochelle, who reached the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup last season. 

What is their Challenge Cup record like? 

Zebre are yet to reach the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup but did notch three wins in the 2015/16 competition to finish second in Pool 4 behind Gloucester Rugby. Last season, the Italian club registered one victory, defeating Agen to finish third in Pool 3 behind Pau and Gloucester. 

Who is on their coaching staff? 

Former Ireland scrum-half Michael Bradley took the reins at Zebre last season after spells at Connacht Rugby and Edinburgh Rugby. He is backed up by assistant coaches Carlo Orlandi and Alessandro Troncon, who made 59 appearances in European rugby for ASM Clermont Auvergne. Former Calvisano back-row Andrea de Rossi is Zebre’s team manager. 

Who are their principal new signings? 

The PRO14 outfit will have Italian full-back Edoardo Padovani available from the start of the season after his release by RC Toulon in December. Another important signing is South African fly-half Francois Brummer, who arrives from the Bulls after featuring in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup for the likes of the Cheetahs and Griquas.  

They join Italian internationals Giosue Zilocchi and Giovanni Licata, who have moved to Zebre from Calvisano and Fiamme Oro respectively. 

Who are some of their other key players? 

Zebre’s squad has a core of Italian internationals including hooker Oliviero Fabiani, prop Andrea Lavotti, back-row Maxime Mbanda, centre Tommaso Boni and full-back Matteo Minozi. They can also boast Argentina prop Eduardo Bello as well as South Africa back-row Johan Meyer. 

What are Zebre saying about the draw? 

Speaking via Zebre’s official website, team manager Andrea de Rossi said: “We face this new year of Challenge Cup rugby with the minimum goal of improving the results from last year. 

“La Rochelle and Bristol Bears, although in different competitions, are teams full of international experience. La Rochelle are one of the strongest teams of the Top 14, while Bristol has a clear project and will be competitive in the Challenge Cup as well as the English Premiership.  

“The Russian side, Enisei-STM, have already proven to be tough opponents, especially at home.”