It went right to the wire, but a James Hook penalty with just four minutes of the regular season remaining secured the Ospreys a place in the end of season play-offs.
It was far from a vintage performance from the Ospreys, who trailed for almost 50 minutes, but that Hook kick, plus three Dan Biggar penalties meant that with the Scarlets defeating Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys will travel to Thomond Park to face Munster next weekend.
It was a glorious evening in Viadana and the Ospreys were backed by a sizeable, and very noisy, travelling support who made the trip in anticipation of the win they hoped would see their team through.
After a low-key opening eight or so minutes with neither side able to string too many phases together, the Ospreys were handed a chance to open the scoring, awarded a penalty on the Aironi 10m line towards the touchline but Biggar was just off-target with his kick at goal.
It was a stop-start affair, with the Ospreys earning a number of set-pieces in Aironi territory, only for unforced errors and a lack of accuracy see the Italians win turnover ball just as it looked like the visitors were going to create an opening.
The first points came with a quarter of the match gone, Biggar slotting over from the right after a powerful Ospreys scrum had driven Aironi back 10m before the hosts were pinged for bringing it down, taking the young fly-half past 500 career Magners League points
Despite the dominance in the scrum, the Ospreys line-out was misfiring, but they were handed a chance to extend their lead in the 24th minute, Justin Tipuric doing some excellent work to secure a turnover in midfield after Aironi had stolen an Ospreys throw-in, but when the hosts were penalised for holding on, Biggar was unable to find the target with what seemed a straightforward chance.
The first half hour had been played out almost entirely in the Aironi half, but the first try of the game went the hosts way. They opted to for the corner when awarded a penalty on halfway, and after the ball was worked infield to suck in Ospreys defenders, it was spread back to the left wing where Danwel Demas was able to go over in the corner, Tito Tebaldi adding the extras.
The Ospreys looked to hit straight back, Justin Tipuric forcing his way close to the line with a strong run, only belng held up by a last ditch tackle from Gareth Krause just a couple of metres from the line. However, as his team-mates arrived in support, they were pulled back for what had been a forward pass to Tipuric.
With the Ospreys guilty of handing over possession too easily, confusion in midfield between Tommy Bowe and Richard Fussell saw the ball going loose on halfway, James Marshall hacking forward before racing forward with Fussell in pursuit. All the Aironi fly-half needed was a controlled second kick forward and he would have been clean through, but fortunately for the Ospreys he sliced his follow-up into touch close to the 22.
The Aironi defence were then caught offside close to halfway, allowing the Ospreys an opportunity to reduce the deficit with the final kick of the first period but again Biggar couldn’t find the target.
HALF-TIME: AIRONI 7 OSPREYS 3
There was an Ospreys penalty for offside within 30 seconds of Biggar restarting, and this time they opted to go for the corner. From the lineout the pack rumble forward before being brought to a halt. The ball was slow being recycled, but eventually it was moved wide, James Hook’s little dink through running just too far for Bowe to reach it.
Within minutes the Ospreys were trailing by seven, Tebaldi successful with a penalty from a central position 45 metres out. The Ospreys hit straight back after another Aironi offside, Biggar put a simple kick over from in front of the posts. The fly-half was successful with a more difficult kick 42m out just a couple of minutes later, bringing the Ospreys back to within a point.
Biggar was just off target with a difficult attempt in the 55th minute after Aironi were penalised in the scrum, his long-range effort drifting just to the left of the sticks.
With the game getting bogged down in midfield as the Ospreys looked to overhaul the narrowest of deficits, they survived a scare when a clever cross kick from Horacio San Martin to the corner allowed Demas to chase, the bounce just evading him as he looked to get his hands on the ball close to the line for what would have been a certain try.
As the Ospreys looked to find a hole in the dogged Aironi defence, the hosts manage to pressure Hook into spilling the ball deep in the opposition 22, allowing Marshall to break at speed. He brushed aside the tackle of replacement Matthew Morgan before being forced into touch close to the Ospreys 22 by the combined efforts of Fussell and Tipuric.
With five to go the Ospreys were awarded a penalty close to halfway, Aironi indiscipline seeing them marched back 10m, taking it into a kickable range, and with Biggar off the field, Hook made no mistake, putting his team back in front.
As the clock reached 79 minutes the Ospreys worked a central position for a drop goal effort from Morgan on the 22 which was wide of the sticks.
Aironi came back at the Ospreys in the closing seconds, looking to move the ball into a kickable position, but the visitors defence won firm, winning a penalty for not releasing the ball with time up, allowing Morgan to clear to touch, bringing the game to a conclusion.