It wasn’t straight forward by any stretch of the imagination but the Ospreys got their Guinness PRO14 campaign off to a winning start at the Liberty Stadium.
Keelan Giles marked his new contract with an early try before Ma’afu Fia touched down at the end of the first period, but the second half proved to be a frustrating experience for the hosts as Zebre clawed their way back to cut a 12 point half-time deficit to just two inside the final ten minutes.
Thankfully, Giles’ second at the death made the game safe, but the Ospreys were unable to go again and secure the try bonus point.
In response, Zebre outside half Carlo Canna, scored all his team’s points, including a late try to scare their opponents.
It took less than three minutes for the hosts to help themselves to their first try of the new season through Giles.
It came after a period of intense Ospreys pressure, the Italians unable to halt the early onslaught, Jeff Hassler his usual bustling self on the left to get close to the line before the ball was swung to the right where Justin Tipuric was able to take full advantage of the overlap,.
His pass released the teenage wing to score in the corner before James Hook pushed the touchline conversion across the face of the posts and wide.
Zebre got their side of the scoreboard moving before 10 minutes had gone, Canna with a straightforward penalty from 20m out.
The Ospreys were then reduced to 14 when Ben John was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, taking out Giulio Bisegni in the air as he chased Hook’s hanging cross kick.
Despite being down a man the Ospreys were in control and as the clock counted down towards10 minutes, a Hook penalty took the home team five clear, John returning to the action almost immediately after.
Then, some lovely interplay among the backs created space for Hassler, the winger barging his way through two tackles before he was stopped 10m out, the ball spilt forward, allowing Zebre to clear.
The Ospreys were looking pretty comfortable with Zebre offering little threat but all too often the home team were their own worst enemy, inaccuracy and lack of precision seeing them concede far too many turnovers, making it easy for the visitors to defend and clear.
That sloppiness almost proved costly as half-time approached, a lost lineout on the Zebre 10m line eventually ending in a kickable penalty to the visitors but Canna couldn’t find the target.
The hosts’ dominance was eventually rewarded with try number two on the stroke of half-time. Cory Allen was proving a constant thorn in the side for Zebre and he did superbly well to read Hook’s chip over the backline, collecting the high ball before being pulled down short of the line.
Although the Italians were able to regroup and snuff out the initial danger, they were unable to prevemt Fia driving over between the sticks from close range.
Hook’s conversion was good and the Ospreys led by 12 heading down the tunnel.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 15-3 ZEBRE
Canna got the first points of the second half, a penalty straight down the middle within two minutes of the restart.
The Italians were then reduced to 14 for 10 minutes when George Biagi was yellow carded for a tip tackle on Tipuric.
Looking to take immediate advantage of the extra man, the Ospreys worked the ball across the field at pace before Allen’s grubber for Hassler to chase wouldn’t sit up for the Canadian who knocked on two metres from the line as he attempted to gather the bouncing ball under pressure.
At the other end, only last ditch defence prevented the 14 men of Zebre from grabbing a try, Mattia Bellini making inroads at the heart of the Ospreys defence before Renato Giammarioli went for the corner, only for referee Quinton Immelman to rule no try, held up.
There was still work to be done though as Zebre probed from the resulting scrum but the defence held firm, eventually winning the penalty to clear their lines up to halfway.
The Ospreys were struggling to get any momentum to their game and they found themselves back under their posts in the 70th minute Bellini carrying well from inside his own half. Although Giles tracked back well to halt him, he managed to get the ball away and, with men over on the left, Canna went over for the score before picking himself up to add the extras.
That score meant the Ospreys led by just two points inside the final 10 minutes and it was all getting very nervy at the Liberty Stadium, on the field and in the stands.
However, a moment of magic saw the game taken away from the visitors, Sam Davies’ sending a perfectly weighted cross kick to the right flank that was read perfectly by Giles, who collected in his stride and went over for the score, converted by Davies.
There was still time for them to go again in pursuit of a fourth try but Zebre held firm to deny their hosts a bonus point.