They left it late but the Ospreys got their Heineken Cup campaign off to a flying start, securing a bonus point win against Benetton Treviso.
Hanno Dirksen helped himself to a brace after Eli Walker’s first half solo effort, with Ashley Beck grabbing the fourth try with the very last play of the match, while the influential Dan Biggar kicked 18 points, missing just one from eight.
The Ospreys started brightly and they took an early lead through the boot of Biggar, the fly-half slotting over a straightforward penalty inside four minutes after Valerie Barnabo was pinged for a side entry to the ruck
The first scrum of the night ended in a penalty to the Ospreys for illegal binding close to the hosts 10m line and some Italian backchat saw referee Neil Paterson marching play into the Treviso half from where Biggar duly doubled the lead with eight minutes gone.
It was 9-0 just short of the quarter hour mark, Mr Paterson issuing a team warning to Treviso captain Antonio Pavanello before bisected the posts from the 22m line.
Treviso were next to score, Kris Burton chalking up his team’s first points of the evening after the Ospreys had infringed at a maul, but that score just sparked the hosts into life as they hit back with the first try of the game.
It came from wing Walker, the first Heineken Cup try of his fledgling career, the 22-year old latching onto Richard Fussell’s perfectly timed pass before sidestepping his way infield past three attempted tackles to score, Biggar adding the extras.
A difference of opinions amongst the packs then saw both teams reduced to 14 for ten minutes, Adam Jones and Antonio Pavanello sinbinned for comparing handbags.
Treviso were then reduced to 13 when Manoa Vosawai was caught coming into the lineout as an extra man after being warned by the referee to keep out.
With the extra man in the pack the Ospreys then marched the Treviso pack 10m into their own 22 at the scrum before winning the penalty, from which they spurned the three points and went for the corner, only to lose the ball at the lineout.
It was all starting to get very scrappy, and the closing minutes of the first half were played out in the Ospreys 22 as Treviso put together their first prolonged spell of pressure.
The Ospreys coaches would have been pleased at the solid defence shown from their players to frustrate their opponents and repel numerous waves of Italian attack, but they would have been tearing their head out at the way they contrived to lose possession several times while trying to play their way out of pressure, allowing Treviso to remain camped in Ospreys territory for the last five minutes of the first half.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 16 BENETTON TREVISO 3
An Ospreys offside within a minute of the restart allowed Treviso the opportunity to go for a simple three points but they chose to go to the corner and like the Ospreys earlier they soon regretted the decision, Burton’s kick going dead.
A series of scrum offences from Treviso then allowed the Ospreys to work their way up to halfway, before going to touch, from where they launched a lovely attacking move that saw Alun Wyn Jones, Richard Hibbard and Ryan Bevington all make the hard yards before the ball was released to the backs. With a man over out wide, a delightful reverse pass from Fussell allowed Dirksen a simple run-in, the winger marking his first ever Heineken Cup start with his first European try. Biggar’s conversion meant the Ospreys enjoyed a 20 point lead.
Treviso refused to give up the fight though and came back at the Ospreys, and the hosts were powerless to stop their driving maul from a lineout six metres or so out, Vosawai dabbing down to score. Burton’s conversion brought the Italian’s back to within two converted tries.
Within in a minute they’d helped themselves to one of those two converted tries, fullback Luke McLean being allowed to go straight through a huge gap in the Ospreys defensive line to score, Burton again converting to make it 23-17 with a little over a quarter of the game remaining.
An attempted clearing kick from Burton, deep inside his own half, carried all the way beyond the dead ball line, and after the Ospreys had opted to restart with a scrum in Treviso territory, a penalty decision in their favour allowed Biggar to put a bit more distance between the teams.
Another penalty, this time for tackler not releasing, saw the home crowd calling for another Treviso yellow which wasn’t forthcoming. Biggar put the ball into the corner and although the Italians were able to halt the driving maul from the lineout a period of incessant Ospreys pressure followed as they battered the line with a series of pick and gos.
With Treviso again down to 14 men after flanker Simone Favaro's sinbinning, the Ospreys couldn’t find a way through some resolute defending but the penalty went their way and they opted for the scrum, just metres from the line. Although the ball squirmed out of the side, the pressure eventually told as the Ospreys went through phase after phase, pick and go after pick and go, sucking in defenders to create numbers on the right. In the end it was the easiest of finishes for Dirksen, Kahn Fotuali’I’s perfectly judged cross kick dropping straight into his hands although Biggar’s conversion attempt was just off target.
It looked as though time was running out on the Ospreys attempts to secure the bonus point but they were handed one last chance with less than 90 seconds to go when Treviso were penalised at a scrum close to their own line. Biggar put the ball in touch, the Ospreys secured good lineout ball and it was worked from right to left to Beck who showed good strength and persistence to force his way through several tackles and score the crucial fourth try, Biggar’s conversion rounding off a decent evening for the Ospreys.