Matt Sherratt insists the fact that Cardiff are still competing on both European and league fronts should give the Blue and Blacks reason for plenty of optimism as they head into the business-end of the campaign.
Dai Young’s men travel to Parma on Friday before welcoming Sale Sharks to the Welsh capital a week later for a blockbuster Challenge Cup knockout clash at the Arms Park.
Backs coach Sherratt insists Zebre are not a team to be underestimated and says his side will take each step as they come as they look to keep URC and European hopes alive.
“It doesn’t get spoken about or written about very often, but at the moment we’re the top Welsh region, we’re just off eighth position and we’ve got a home European game against Sale next week,” explained Sherratt, who rejoined the Cardiff backroom team in 2021.
“So the next two games could define our season. If we can get a win this weekend, which will be tough, we’ve then got Connacht who are just above us and Ospreys in the stadium.
“We’ve got previous form in European as well, so the next couple of games will dictate how we finish the season. But it would be great to get further in the knockout stages in European and go to the Principality Stadium against Ospreys with something to play for.
“We’ve got to remember that because there’s usually a lot of doom and gloom.
“But when you get down to the last three matches, if we start thinking ahead to the Ospreys in the stadium - and Scarlets have been in really good form as well as of late - then we’ll probably come unstuck.
“Zebre away is a tough game. If you saw the Ospreys game there four or five weeks ago, they’ve been so close to getting the win.
“Good Connacht and Stormers sides have been there and it’s been close to the end, and they had a five metre line-out to win the game against Ospreys.
“So it’s almost been like Italy’s form in the Six Nations and at some stage they’re going to get a win because they’re a good side.
“So all eyes are on Zebre and if we can get something there, then we can worry about Connacht and Ospreys.
“If you go there and try to force things and force a bonus point, you’ll end up coming up with nothing at all.
“We’ve just got to go there and focus on ourselves. We’ve paid Zebre a lot of respect, as we always do because we know they’re a tough team to play against, particularly away from home.”
Sherratt is excited by the race for a top eight spot in the URC, and knows every game counts between now and the end of the campaign: “If you win two out of thee, you won’t be too far away. But it’s a really competitive league now from top to bottom.
“If you’re 10 per cent off your game, then any team can beat any team. We’ve beaten the likes of Stormers and Leinster here recently, while there have been teams below us that have beaten us as well, when we’ve been five per cent off.
“The race for the top eight in this league is just getting more and more competitive, particularly from sixth to twelfth. There are a lot of teams vying for eighth position.
“I know it’s what I should say, but the reality is that we’ve got to get to the Connacht and Ospreys games with something to play for first of all, so it’s important that we pick something up away at Zebre.
“It’s almost like we’ve got four knockout games over the next four or five weeks.”