The Ospreys ended their Heineken Cup campaign in disappointing, surrendering an 11 point lead in the last five minutes as Benetton Treviso secured their first competition win of the season at the last attempt.
It was particularly disappointing giving that the Ospreys had dominated the first 70 minutes, but credit goes to the Italians who themselves have suffered last disappointment several times this season.
The pitch was very heavy and holding a considerable amount of water after 24 hours of heavy rain in the Veneto area, and a spectacle of running rugby never seemed likely from the off.
It was Treviso who had the go forward in the early minutes and a sharp break from scrum half Edoardo Gori, attacking from a scrum on the Ospreys 10m line, took the Italians up close to the line, Tom Grabham doing well to halt Giulio Toniolatti as he took the offload. The ball was recycled, and with a penalty advantage in their favour Luke McLean went for the line but was unable to find a way through, so play taken back for Kristopher Burton to slot over the first points of the afternoon four minutes in.
The Ospreys responded well, dominating possession over the next five minutes, when a series of pick and drives took them up into the Treviso 22, from where Kahn Fotuali’i, Sam Lewis and Dan Biggar combined well, before a Treviso offside allowed Biggar to level from in front of the posts.
A huge Ospreys scrum on halfway that saw them drive Treviso back 10m, resulting in a penalty which allowed them to go to the corner and apply pressure on the line. After Francesco Minto was penalised at the maul as the visitors looked to rumble forward, Biggar made no mistake, putting his team in front on the quarter of an hour mark.
It wasn’t a classic, the conditions were never going to allow that, but it was never anything less than competitive, although the Ospreys were able to dominate territory thanks to clever kicking from Biggar, Fotuali’i and Richard Fussell, who were able to keep turning Treviso with their boot, sending them back to their own 22 time after time.
However, they were unable to turn that dominance into points, and they went in at the break leading by just three points.
HALF-TIME: BENETTON TREVISO 3 OSPREYS 6
Having enjoyed the best of the opening period the Ospreys would have wanted to get the scoreboard moving as early as possible in the second half, and they thought they’d scored an early try from Fotuali’i, only for the TMO to rule no try.
It came from an Ospreys penalty on halfway against Giovanni Maistri, Biggar going to the corner which allowed the visitors to set up a driving maul, from which Fotuali’i peeled off to go for the line, only for Ludo Nitoglia to prevent him grounding.
From the resulting Ospreys scrum, Treviso were able to repel the first wave of pressure, but then, with a penalty advantage in their favour, Biggar slotted over a drop goal from in front of the sticks, stretching the lead to six points.
As the hour approached the Ospreys were finally able to get over the Treviso line, with a well-worked counter attack on the right. The Italians were struggling to clear their lines under pressure, allowing Ben John, making his Heineken Cup debut as a late injury replacement for Eli Walker, to run it straight back. He found Fotuali’i in support on his shoulder, who popped it to Tom Isaacs, allowing him to slide over in the corner. Biggar’s conversion was off target, leaving it 14-3 to the Ospreys with just over 20 left.
The Italians weren’t going to give up hope though, as they proceeded to enjoy their best spell of a pressure, a penalty against Ryan Bevington for side entry allowing them to go to the corner, from which the Treviso pack rumbled forward ominously towards the line. The ref again turned to the TMO for advice over the possible grounding, but the footage showed that the defensive line had done their job and the decision was attacking scrum.
With the clock ticking down the first scrum was reset and then the penalty went against Bevington for dropping his bind, as Treviso looked to find a way back in. The pressure eventually told, as although the Ospreys scrum held up on this occasion, there was no stopping Alessandro Zanni as he crashed over from close range to score, Burton’s conversion cutting the deficit to just four points with the same number of minutes on the clock.
Treviso threw everything at the Ospreys, and with time passing 80 minutes it seemed as though the visitors were going to hold on for the win only for Andrea Pratichetti to find a way through, Burton bringing the game to an end with his third successful kick of the night.