It went to the wire, but the Ospreys dug deep to secure a hard earned win in Parma on Friday evening to ensure they remain unbeaten going into next weekend’s derby against the Blues.
Sam Davies, an early replacement for the injured Dan Biggar, kicked all his team’s points as they came from behind to win it after trailing for most of the contest despite enjoying the lion’s share of territory.
The win makes it five from five, leaving the Ospreys at the top of the PRO12 table ahead of second placed Glasgow’s own Italian job, in Treviso on Sunday afternoon.
After a sultry autumn day in Parma, the temperature remained in the twenties by kick-off at 8.35pm local time
Following a minute’s silence in memory of Zebre fullback Hendrik Daniller’s father, who passed away unexpectedly yesterday, it was the Ospreys who got the game underway and the early exchanges were played out primarily in the opposition half.
It was the hosts who opened the scoring in only the sixth minute though, with a counter from deep inside their own half.
The visitors were in possession when Biggar hoisted an up and under and set off in pursuit to reclaim the ball. He was beaten in the aerial contest by David Odiete, the collision leaving the Osprey poleaxed on the floor as Zebre attacked at pace. Gonzalo Garcia attacked up the left flank, and as the cover came across he had support on the inside from Giulio Bisegni, the centre haring over for the first try of the evening.
Luciano Orquera’s conversion attempt was off target but, before play could restart, there was a further setback when Biggar was helped from the pitch following the collision.
To the Ospreys’ credit they seemed unruffled and came straight back at Zebre, Davies providing an attacking platform close to the line for Josh Matavesi and Jeff Hassler to have a go with ball in hand. Matias Aguero was spotted spoiling on the floor and from the resulting penalty the replacement fly-half made no mistake.
Within 90 seconds Orquera was handed a second shot on goal after the Ospreys illegally brought down a Zebre maul, but again he was unable to find the target.
When Morgan Allen was pinged for not releasing Marco Bortolami following his tackle on the 22, Zebre were able to stretch their lead. A change of kicker after two misses saw Garcia slotting the penalty over.
The Ospreys weren’t helping themselves as they sought to take control of a low quality contest, with a crooked feed to the scrum, a not straight lineout throw, and a wild forward pass, all seeing possession turned over in decent positions.
Good work from Matavesi in contact won his side a penalty inside the Zebre half with just over five minutes left of the half, but although Davies’ kick had the length it scraped the outside of the right hand post, leaving the deficit at five points.
However, he was presented with another go on the opposite side a couple of minutes later, Odiete holding on as James King looked to jackal after the Zebre full-back tried to run Dan Evans’ kick back. This time, Davies made no mistake.
There was still time for the Ospreys to go again, Evans tackled illegally in the air, giving them another opportunity. Told by the ref that there was no time for the lineout, they left it to the forwards to win a second penalty 10m upfield and inside the Zebre half. Davies went for goal but his effort was never on target.
HALF-TIME: ZEBRE 8 OSPREYS 6
Zebre were handed an early chance to go for three points after the scrum went down on the Ospreys 10m line and Garcia duly delivered, his kick going straight down the middle.
It was all very messy, and ill discipline was proving very costly, allowing the Italians to add points on just about every incursion into the Ospreys half, the visitors dominating territory and possession if not the scoreboard.
A penalty in the 53rd minute, for pulling down Lloyd Peers at the lineout, allowed Davies to cut the deficit to two points once more.
As the hour approached Zebre were reduced to 14, Giulio Toniolatti sent to the sinbin for a professional foul in the 22 as the Ospreys finally managed to apply some concerted pressure on the line after some good carrying from Alun Wyn Jones, on for Rynier Bernardo, and Evans. Unfortunately for the Ospreys, Davies pulled the resulting penalty across the face of the posts and wide of the target.
Garcia almost extended his team’s lead with a monstrous effort from a central position two metres inside his own half, the ball striking the crossbar dead centre before rebounding to safety.
Back up the other end, an offside call against veteran Mauro Bergamasco was duly punished, Davies’ penalty from the 10m line giving the Ospreys the lead for the first time with just 14 minutes remaining.
They led for just a couple of minutes though, Lloyd Peers penalised for side entry at the maul and Garcia again successful with the kick.
With Zebre back up to 15 the Ospreys came straight back at the hosts, and from a driving maul of their own it was Bergamasco offending again, allowing Davies to slot over his fifth penalty of the night to make the score 14-15.
There were now just eight minutes on the clock and the Ospreys were guaranteed an uncomfortable ride in the closing stages if they were to hold out for the win.
With just 120 seconds left on the clock, Davies went for a long-range kick after the Ospreys pack won a scrum on halfway. Looking to take his team four points clear, the youngster’s effort faded and dropped away to the right, allowing Zebre to launch one last foray upfield.
Despite memories of the last gasp defeat here in May in the mind, the Ospreys were able to hold out without any undue trouble, allowing focus to turn to the visit of Cardiff Blues next weekend for the first home Welsh derby of 2014/15.