It will be a first for the Ospreys this Friday night as Italian side Zebre make their debut appearance at the Liberty Stadium in an untelevised RaboDirect PRO12 fixture.
The Italian side are experiencing their first taste of regular professional rugby this season but the team is not, in fact, a newly formed side, as such as the Zebre brand actually boasts a long and unique history in Italian rugby.
The Zebre side was first conceived in 1973 in Milan. Australian Sydney-based club side Randwick was touring Italy and the Centro Universitario Sportivo Milano, (University Sports Centre) that promotes sport in Milan, decided to create a super team which could play against them.
The idea was driven forward by Marco Bollesan, the captain of Italy at that time (and who went on to coach the national side between 1985 and 1988) – a player considered one of the greatest Italian rugby players of all time.
The team became Italy’s first invitation team. As such, they decided to copy the UK’s legendary Barbarians and adopted a black and white jersey. The name of the team naturally followed from the animal the colours resembled most: a zebra.
Their inaugural match ended 21-50 in favour of the Australians, but the Zebre were born.
From then, they continued to play a match at least once every year as an invitation side. They have played well known sides from around the rugby world including Stellenbosch, Richmond and Cardiff and they have played in several Sevens tournaments.
But the nature of the club changed dramatically last year when the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) revoked the licence of Aironi Rugby to compete in the competition.
Aironi was formed from a group of north eastern clubs and based at Viadana. Rather than try to form another side on a similar basis, risking similar problems to Aironi, the FIR instead decided to invest in making Zebre a fully functional team to compete alongside the other Italian representative Benetton Treviso.
Zebre is now based in Parma and plays at the XXV Aprile Stadium, which is currently being refurbished and expanded. Roberto Manghi, General Manager with Gran Parma and Rugby Parma, is its Director of Rugby while Christian Gajan, who has coached at Benetton Treviso, Toulouse and Castres Olympique, is its Technical Director. The 81-times capped Fabio Ongaro is Zebre's team manager.
The Ospreys will kick off against Zebre on Friday January 4 at 19:05pm. There is a fantastic ticket deal in place allowing supporters to purchase tickets for the Zebre game, next weekend’s crunch Heineken Cup tie against Leicester, and the PRO12 game against Edinburgh next month for just £35 - £5 cheaper than two individual match tickets. You can buy in person at the Liberty Stadium Ticket Office, online at www.ospreysrugby.com/buytickets or via the Ticket Hotline on 9844 815 6665.