Full match report from the opening game of the RaboDirect PRO12 season at Stadio Comunale di Monigo
The Ospreys got the new season off to a winning start, thanks to a performance full of spirit and grit to hold off a strong and physical Treviso challenge.
Tries from Scott Baldwin and Ben John, combined with 14 points from Dan Biggar, had put them into a winning position but they had to withstand wave after wave of Treviso pressure in the closing minutes to secure the first victory of the season.
On a gorgeous late summer evening in northern Italy it was the hosts who grabbed the first points through an Alberto Di Bernardo penalty 11 minutes in.
Tom Smith and Joe Bearman had already been penalised when Andrew Bishop offended in a central position in the Ospreys half, referee Neil Paterson going for a yellow card after deciding enough was enough. Bishop went to the sidelines for 10 minutes and the Treviso fly-half slotted over to put his team 3-0 up.
There was a perfect response from the Ospreys though, Biggar levelling it just two minutes later after Treviso were guilty of playing the ball on the ground.
Bishop returned to the field at the halfway point of the first period with the game all square, and within a minute it was the Italians who were a man short after Leonardo Ghiraldini was yellow carded.
A well organised Ospreys lineout drive was troubling the Italians, and after a warning for bringing it down illegally, the visitors spurned the three points on offer to go for the same move. When the second drive was again halted illegally the Treviso hooker was sinbinned, and at the third attempt there was no stopping the Ospreys pack, Baldwin grounding the ball. Biggar’s conversion meant they had a seven-point lead.
Treviso were offered the chance to reduce the deficit in 30 minutes after Tito Tebaldi was penalised for a crooked feed at the scrum, but Di Bernardo’s kick, seemingly a straightforward one, struck the post.
An offside decision against Smith just a couple of minutes later gave the Treviso 10 another chance from an almost identical position and this time he made no mistake, bringing the hosts back to within four points.
The difference between the teams as they went in at the break was just a point as a third penalty from Di Bernardo, this time in the shadow of the posts after Tebaldi was penalised for not releasing, brought the scores to 10-9 in the Ospreys favour.
HALF-TIME: BENETTON TREVISO 9 OSPREYS 10
The first half had been an evenly balanced contest with little between the two teams, the two packs engaged in a wrestle for supremacy.
Just as was the case in the opening period It was Treviso who got the first points of the half, Di Bernado making no mistake with a penalty, Joe Rees the offender after some neat hands from the forwards had taken the hosts up to the 22.
Treviso led for just two minutes though, as again, as was the case in the first half, the Ospreys replied immediately, Biggar slotting over a close range drop goal with Mr Paterson signalling a penalty advantage in the visitors favour.
The Ospreys then grabbed their second try, just short of the hour, with a score that was a good mix of forward grunt and opportunism from the backs.
Another powerful lineout drive provided a strong platform for the visitors, taking them from the 10m line to the 22, and when their progress was eventually halted Tebaldi put a little dink over the top for Ben John to chase. The Loughor RFC product did well to beat Luke McLean to the high ball, gathering at the second attempt just five metres out, giving himself a simple finish.
Biggar’s conversion was just wide to the right of the sticks, leaving the score 18-12 to the Ospreys with just over 20 minutes to play.
By now the Ospreys had started emptying their bench with the three Lions, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones and Ian Evans all joining the action, along with the experience of Duncan Jones, and Biggar’s second drop goal of the night stretching the lead to nine points.
Back came Treviso and a powerful run from Luca Morisi took them deep into opposition territory for the first time in 20 minutes. It was scrappy and slow as they recycled wide on the right, but after Edoardo Gori was stopped a metre short Treviso were awarded a penalty, Adam Jones lying offside.
Treviso skipper Antonio Pavanello signalled to go for the corner, despite it definitely being within Di Bernardo’s range, and he was rewarded for the bold call as their drive from the resulting lineout was unstoppable, Simone Favaro crashing over. The conversion was good, bringing the home team back to within two points.
It was on a knife edge as the final 10 minutes approached, and after a huge Ospreys scrum close to the 10m line on the right resulted in a penalty to the visitors, Biggar couldn’t find the target, pulling his kick to the right.
He had another chance from a similar position just two minutes, Treviso offending at a ruck, and this time he made no mistake as he stretched the lead back up to five points.
After a touch judge has drawn the referee’s attention to possible Ospreys foul play, alleging that James King has pulled back Tobias Botes as he chased his kick through, Mr Paterson referred it to the TMO. Replays showed no such offence had occurred, but mystifyingly the Italian official confirmed the penalty, allowing Treviso to put the ball back upfield into the Ospreys corner with six minutes left.
Following their earlier try from a lineout drive there was only one thing the Italians had in their mind. They drove to the line, where the Ospreys held firm, keeping their discipline to stop the Treviso pack fairly.
The hosts then launched a series of pick and gos, working their way across the field as they pounded on the line, but being repelled by the Ospreys defence at every turn. Just as a gap seemed to open up, Christian Loamanu reached over to try and ground it, only to knock on over the line in contact as three defenders looked to squeeze him out.
After a series of scrum resets, the Ospreys were awarded a free-kick, clearing deep into Treviso territory. As the clock turned red they kept pressing but Biggar was eventually able to win a turnover 15m out and that was that, the Ospreys doing what they had failed to do twice last season, win in Treviso.