On a night when five players aged 21 or under made their Guinness PRO14 debuts, including first ever senior outings for two, a youthful Ospreys side went down fighting in the Parma sunshine.
At risk of being totally blown away in an opening quarter, the Ospreys found themselves 22-0 down in 23 minutes as Zebre, with 13 Italian internationals in the starting line-up, bagged a bonus point.
However, a team showing 13 changes from last weekend's starting fifteen in Ulster dug in deep as Sam Cross scored his fourth try for the Ospreys, Reuben Morgan-Williams adding his fifth late on.
It was all Zebre in the opening exchanges and the home team were in front after just seven minutes, Oliviero Fabiani controlling the rolling maul to dab down for a score that went unconverted as Carlo Canna sent his kick wide.
Try two came five minutes later, Mattia Bellini finishing in the corner from a lineout on the opposite side, again Canna missing.
Bellini then scored his second, beating James Hook to Giulio Bisegni’s dink behind the defence, Cann’s third miss leaving the score at 15-0 inside 15 minutes.
The bonus point arrived at the start of the second quarter, Fabiani held up on the line before Bisegni crashed over at full speed. This time Canna found the target, and the lead was now 22 points.
After that incredible onslaught the Ospreys were finally able to enjoy some possession and territory, Joe Thomas carrying well but he couldn’t find Luke Price with his offload.
As the visitors built pressure, winning multiple penalties in and around the 22, they finally made the breakthrough via a quick tap and go, Cross with the score, converted by Sam Davies.
With half-time approaching the Ospreys thought they’d grabbed a second, a five metre scrum providing a platform to attack, Dylan Moss grounding in the left corner at full stretch. However, it was referred upstairs and the verdict was foot in touch, Canna doing just enough to save the try.
HALF-TIME: ZEBRE 22-7 OSPREYS
With the sun still beating down the third quarter was played at a considerably more sedate pace, Dewi Cross doing well to hold up Giambattista Venditti after the Italians had worked space on the left. Play was taken back for a Zebre penalty in front of the posts, which Canna duly dispatched to stretch the lead.
Despite the Ospreys now enjoying far more of the contest as the replacement bench was emptied, Zebre struck next, in the 67th minute, to kill off any comeback hopes, man of the match Bellini running in on the right to complete a hat-trick, the try unconverted,
As full-time approached, a crazy minute summed up the contest as Gabriel Di Giulio scored Zebre’s sixth, Canna with the extras, before the Ospreys hit straight back, good footwork from Morgan-Williams to score, Davies with the conversion.
With the Champions Cup play-off spot next month secure, the focus for the Ospreys now switches to Cardiff Blues at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday.