The Ospreys got their Guinness PRO12 campaign off to a perfect start with a five try, bonus point win over Benetton Treviso at the Liberty Stadium.
Nicky Smith, Rhys Webb, Jeff Hassler, Scott Baldwin and Hanno Dirksen all touched down while Dan Biggar enjoyed a perfect night with the boot, kicking 17 points. Sam Davies added two at the death.
The men in black were on top from the first whistle, Biggar’s kick-off putting the ball deep into Treviso territory and setting the tone for the opening minutes, and it was the fly-half who got the scoreboard moving after seven minutes with a long range penalty from the middle of the park.
Biggar then doubled the lead just three minutes later from much closer to the posts, Treviso players guilty of going off their feet at the breakdown after some great work from Eli Walker chasing Rhys Webb’s delicate little dink over the defensive line.
The first scrum of the night resulted in a Treviso penalty on halfway. The Italians opted to go for the line out and their renowned drive was repelled by the Ospreys, aggressive defence then driving Treviso back some 20m. However, debutant Josh Matavesi was guilty of not rolling away, allowing Joe Carlisle to slot over his team’s first points of the night from 40m out.
That sparked a spell of sustained pressure from the Ospreys in response, Dan Evans and Jeff Hassler both gaining some hard yards and the home team showing good patience to work the ball back and forth, stretching the Treviso line. Scott Baldwin was eventually halted just a couple of metres short before the ball was moved to the left where Walker was bundled into touch close to the line.
The Ospreys kept the pressure up though and a scrum five metres out after a Treviso knock-on eventually allowed the home team to grab the opening try as the clock moved into the second quarter. Two powerful scrums from the home eight saw Treviso pinged for collapsing, and twice the Ospreys opted for the reset. On the third occasion, Dan Baker picked up at the back and drove forward, and after he was held up on the line there was no stopping 20-year old prop Nicky Smith from close range. Biggar added the extras.
Treviso responded positively and a penalty against Joe Bearman, for releasing after the tackle allowed Carlisle to slot over his second of the night, a simple kick from just to the right of the posts, to keep Treviso within seven.
A half-break from Walker got the crowd excited but he could’t shake off the defence, and there was then no way through for Matavesi as he offered support, the Ospreys continuing to enjoy the upper hand.
Biggar then kicked his second penalty of the night after Rupert Harden brought another scrum down, the score now standing at 16-6 to the Ospreys seven minutes short of the break.
All the play was in the Treviso half but the hosts were finding the opposition defence a tough nut to crack. However a typically barnstorming Jeff Hassler run up the right put the Ospreys firmly on the front foot and after patiently going through 12 phases it was Rhys Webb who darted over to score the second try, Biggar’s conversion bringing the half to a pleasing end.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 23 BENETTON TREVISO 6
Treviso were reduced to 14 men just minutes after the restart when referee David Wilkinson finally run out of patience with Harden after another scrum went down. The Ospreys were immediately on the offensive, the forwards creating the platform to attack before Biggar was stopped five metres short. Hassler was in support, picking up the ball and charging for the line only to be held up, resulting in an attacking scrum five.
The Italians were again in trouble at the scrum, but this time the Ospreys opted to move it quickly and there was no stopping the Canadian winger on this occasion as he reached over to dot down his first of the season. Biggar was again accurate with the conversion, taking the score up to 30-6.
The new mega screens were brought into use for the first time on 55 minutes after Dan Baker peeled off the back of the maul to charge towards the line. Although he was brought to ground short Scott Baldwin was in support and he was left with the simplest of tasks to pick up and dive over, and despite referring it upstairs, Mr Wilkinson took just a cursory glance up to the roof of the South Stand before confirming the score himself. With the bonus point in the bag, Biggar kept up his perfect evening with his fourth conversion.
Sloppy play in midfield from the Ospreys saw the ball go loose allowing winger Michele Campagnaro to go on a rare excursion upfield. Although he beat his man, Evans did a decent job of holding him up, and his offload could only find Duncan Jones, allowing the Ospreys to clear.
A stream of replacements for the Ospreys seemed to upset their rhythm and Treviso were able to enjoy their first spell of prolonged possession, sparked by a run through the middle from prop Salesi Manu. The Ospreys were never able to regain their shape as Treviso recycled well from ruck to ruck and eventually they grabbed their first try, Marco Fuser with the simplest of finishes as the Italians worked an overlap on their left. Carlisle’s conversion made it 37-13 with 15 to go.
With the game over as a contest the Italians continued to have the better of the exchanges as the clock moved into the final 10, but the Ospreys regathered and took control of the game once again as they looked to finish the contest in style.
A powerful run from Morgan Allen took the hosts deep into opposition territory and after it was recycled the replacement number eight looked to ground the ball over the line only to knock on.
It was the Ospreys who had the final say, Hanno Dirksen rounding off a good move to score in the corner after the Treviso defence has been pulled in all directions, Sam Davies rounding off the scoring with the final kick of the game.