Second-placed Ospreys travel to Italian side Zebre on Friday looking to keep the pressure on league leaders Munster at the top of the Guinness PRO12.
What’s at stake?
Both Zebre and Ospreys will be approaching Fridays tie desperate for a win, but in very different circumstances.
With only one win in 11 Zebre Rugby bottom of the Guinness PRO12 table but a win could move them above their Italian rivals Benetton Treviso who are two points above them.
At the other end of the league table, Ospreys are hot on the tails of leaders Munster and have shown no sign of sitting back in their title chase.
Having not lost a game in the Guinness PRO12 since their away loss at Munster Rugby on November 4th their confidence is brimming and they are sure to go all guns blazing on their trip Parma.
Team news (Zebre)
Only 12 players remained at the Zebre camp this week with the rest off on international duty and with a further six players injured Zebre Rugby find themselves thin on selection.
They may well award three off the bench debuts to South African prop, Bartholomeus Le Roux and two Italian permit players Adriano Daniele and Davide Fragnito who join Zebre Rugby from Fiamme Oro Rugby and Lyons Piacenza respectively.
Team news (Ospreys)
With a growing injury list and 14 players unavailable due to international duty, Ospreys will put out almost an entirely different team to the one that beat Connacht 29-7 at the Liberty Stadium in January.
Fly-half Luke Price makes his first PRO12 start while Matthew Aubrey will make his PRO12 debut if he comes off the bench.
Ospreys coach Chris Tandy is keen to use the on-going Six Nations as a platform to test their own strength in depth and allow players to step up and show their worth.
He said: “This time of the year is always a great opportunity for players to come in and show what they are about and we‘ll be looking at some of the boys in this group to see how they take their chance.
“We know what’s at stake, if we can get the performance level where it needs to be over the next four weeks, it can really set us up for an exciting end of season.
“It’s an exciting mix if I’m honest. There’s a real enthusiasm around the group at the moment, training has had an edge to it. Everyone knows what the standard is that is expected of them over this period and can’t wait to get going.”
Zebre captain and second row Quintin Geldenhuys will have a lot on his chest on Friday taking charge of an inexperienced side desperate to snatch a win.
But the 35-year-old does have plenty of experience especially compared to the 21-year-old Adam Beard who will be in the second row for the visitors.
Beard has made 11 appearances for the Swansea-outfit so far this season and will be looking to get his side on the front foot at the setpiece.
Ospreys have scored the most tries (51) in this year’s Guinness PRO12 which is 11 more than league leaders Munster with Leinster the second most profilic in attack with 49 tries.
Did you know?
Ospreys have only lost once to Zebre Rugby in their nine previous encounters when they were downed 30-27at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in 2014.
Top points scorer: 66-Carlo Canna
Top try scorer: 4- Giovanbattista Venditti, Dries Van Schalkwyk
Top points scorer: 71- Sam Davis
Top try scorer: 5- Ben John
Zebre: Kurt Baker, Mattia Bellini, Thomas Boni, Matteo Pratichetti, Lloys Greeff, Serafin Bordoli, William Palazzani, Federico Ruzza, Johan Meyer, Derick Minnie, Valerio Bernabo, Quintin Geldenhuys, Guillermo Roan, Oliviero Fabiani, Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: Adriano Daniele, Andrea De Marchi, Bartholomeus Le Roux, Gideon Koegelenberg, David Fragnito, Carlo Engelbrecht, Faialaga Afamasaga, Maicol Azzolini
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Ben John, Kieron Fonotia, Ashley Beck, Dafydd Howells, Luke Price, Tom Habberfield, Paul James, Sam Parry, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Lloyd Ashley, Tyler Ardron, Sam Underhill, Dan Baker
Replacements: Hugh Gustafson, Gareth Thomas, Daniel Suter, Rory Thornton, Olly Cracknell, Matthew Aubrey, Hanno Dirksen, Jonathan Spratt
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 9, Zebre won 1, Ospreys won 8.
At Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 8pm local time (7pm UK & Ireland)
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU, 48th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White (SRU, Stefano Bolzonella (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Alberto Recaldini (FIR)
An incredible 12-minute hat-trick for Dan Evans saw Ospreys to a 40-10 bonus point victory over Zebre to keep the pressure on Munster at the top of the Guinness PRO12.
Zebre had started well and were 10-0 up after Tommaso Boni’s early try but Ashley Beck’s score with the last play of the first-half was a sign of things to come.
Dan Evans hat-trick in the opening minutes of the second-half turned the game on its head with Sam Parry getting a fifth as Zebre were twice reduced to 14 men.
A fine solo try from Dafydd Howells added further gloss to the Ospreys performance after Oliviero Fabiani had been shown the Italian’s third yellow card.
Guglielmo Palazzani had got the home side off the mark with a penalty with just three minutes gone and Zebre extended their lead soon after as outside centre Boni crossed after a Derick Minnie turnover.
Italy international Palazzani slotted the conversion to put his side ten points to the good with just ten minutes gone but his second penalty attempt, this time from halfway, went wide.
And the miss was punished by the Ospreys as inside centre Ashley Beck got over the whitewash in the final play of the first half with Luke Price, in his first Guinness PRO12 start, adding the conversion.
The try was Beck’s 27th for the Ospreys taking him level with Lee Byrne in the club’s all-time list.
The Ospreys took the lead for the first time three minutes into the second-half as Evans broke through the defensive line and Price converted.
And it was Evans again almost instantly for Ospreys third, with Price slotting his third conversion, and the visitors were suddenly in control at 21-10.
With Zebre on the back foot, South African winger Lloyd Greeff was shown a yellow card for killing the ball as Sam Underhill was stopped short of the line.
The try bonus point was secured with just 52 minutes gone as Evans crossed for his hat-trick.
Zebre returned to their full compliment but only briefly as Gideon Koegelenberg was sent to the sin bin on the hour mark with hooker Parry going over for Ospreys’ fifth try which Price converted.
Referee David Wilkinson showed his third yellow card of the game to Zebre’s Fabiani for a deliberate knock on as the visitors attacked from their own half.
Howells rounded off a fine second-half performance from the Ospreys with a fantastic individual effort with Price’s conversion making it 40-10.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final