The Ospreys were made to battle all the way in Viadana on Saturday evening but tries from Richard Fussell and Hanno Dirksen saw them to victory on the final day of the regular season.
On what was always going to be an emotional night in northern Italy, in what looks likely to be Aironi’s last ever match, it was very rarely pretty there were too many mistakes from both teams for the game to ever be a classic, so it will very much be a case of ‘job done’ as attention now turns to next Friday and the RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final at the Liberty Stadium.
It was a bright start from the Ospreys, Andrew Bishop acting as scrum half and showing good awareness to spot a gap to carry 20m. Good scramble defence from the Italians saw Eli Walker and then Kahn Fotuali’i snuffed out in the corner, all inside the first minute.
Held up over the line, the Ospreys were awarded a scrum five, and after several resets, the ball was worked left to right across the width of the field. With a penalty advantage in their favour, fullback Richard Fussell stepped into the line, bisecting Matteo Pratichetti and Sinoti Sinoti to touchdown just five minutes in.
Kicking into the wind, Dan Biggar’s first kick of the night was off-target, leaving his team five points ahead, and that gap was reduced to just two less than 90 seconds later, Paul James guilty of going off his feet which allowed Naas Olivier to pop over a simple penalty.
Despite the swift reply from Aironi, it remained all Ospreys, and after an interception by Joe Bearman had put the home defence on the back foot, a penalty against blindside flanker Nicola Cattina for going off his feet in the shadow of the posts allowed Biggar to slot his first successful penalty of the night.
Again Aironi came straight back at the Ospreys, a well worked lineout move allowing them to venture into the opposition 22 for the first time as the clock reached the midway point of the first half, Nick Williams and Giovanbattista Venditti combining well in midfield. After the pack worked their way through numerous pick and go’s on the Ospreys line it was the big Aucklander Williams who finally drove his way over from just a metre out to level things. Olivier’s conversion attempt was hooked badly to the left of the posts to leave it all square at 8-8.
Pinpoint precision from Olivier a couple of minutes later saw him put the ball in the corner, from where an overthrown lineout from Richard Hibbard saw the Ospreys playing themselves into trouble, Aironi again battering against a white defensive wall. Eventually they spun it wide and Hanno Dirksen had to manhandle Sinoti into touch on the other side of the field.
The Italians were enjoying a purple patch as the Ospreys struggled to maintain their early momentum and Olivier was just inches wide with a long range drop goal attempt.
Having weathered what had been a very powerful Aironi storm, the Ospreys managed to break from inside their own half to score a second try. The move started back in their own 22 as they looked to run the ball back at Aironi following Olivier’s long clearance, Eli Walker and Fussell moving the ball before Fotuali’i’s break saw him carry it over halfway. He timed his pass perfectly to the supporting Dirksen on his shoulder who outpaced Sinoti and the covering fullback Paulo Buso to score his seventh of the season, Biggar adding the extras.
The Ospreys indiscipline would have been a concern for the coaches though, as once again they allowed Aironi to hit straight back, this time through an Olivier penalty from in front of the posts to ensure the hosts went in at the break trailing by just four points.
HALF-TIME: AIRONI 11 OSPREYS 15
After a scrappy start to the second half, a penalty against James at the scrum allowed Olivier the opportunity to cut the deficit to one point five minutes after the restart, but the fly half was off target from just to the left of the posts.
At the next scrum the decision went the other way, and a quickly taken tap penalty from Fotuali’I almost created a third try, Joe Bearman knocking on as he looked to offload to Tom Smith for what would have been a simple canter over from close range.
The first 15 minutes were dominated by collapsed and reset scrums, the Ospreys slowly turning the screw at the setpiece despite ringing the changes in the front row, and the referee’s patience finally wore thin with tighthead Lorenzo Romano sent to the sinbin following a third consecutive scrum penalty on the Aironi line.
The third quarter had offered little as a spectacle, spent almost exclusively as a contest between the two packs that the Ospreys were winning, but the visitors were finally able to inject some life into the game thanks to some good lineout ball and a penalty against Aironi for tackler not releasing allowed Biggar to bring the hour up with the first points of the second period.
The Ospreys were reduced to 14 minutes later, Tom Smith eventually paying the price for the sheer number of penalties being conceded by his team and having to spend 10 minutes on the touchline, but thankfully Luciano Orguera, just into the action, couldn’t find the target.
Aironi understandably looked to up the ante with their numerical advantage but were guilty of wasting a three man overlap on their left, Orguera overhitting his cross kick when he would have been better off keeping ball in hand.
Tito Tebaldi and Venditti then combined well to take their team into Ospreys territory before Rhys Webb’s over enthusiasm at the ruck saw him pinged for coming in from the side allowing Orguera to go for the posts again, but as was the case a few minutes earlier, thankfully his radar was well off.
Aironi were finishing strongly as they looked to end the season on a high but despite the good running of Sinoti on several occasions, they found themselves unable to break down the Ospreys, some last gasp defence keeping their line intact to ensure the region’s 16th win in 22 PRO12 games this season.