Ospreys and Zebre Rugby will be aspiring to put defeats right when they meet on Friday night to mark a special occasion for Alun Wyn Jones.
Neither team has hit their peak this campaign with Zebre propping up the Conference A table, while Ospreys will hope to climb back into third place with a win.
What’s at stake:
Allen Clarke’s Ospreys will put an undefeated home record against Zebre on the line when they arrive at the Liberty Stadium.
The Italians have never beaten the Swansea outfit in 22 visits but will be hoping to rip up the history books with a fourth win of the season.
Ospreys came out on top in the previous meeting this season – winning 22-8 in Parma.
And Michael Bradley’s men can take heart knowing that they got the better of Ospreys last April with a 22-8 blitz at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Both sides boast a raft of internationals back in the set-up after enduring their own gruelling autumn international campaigns.
Team news (Ospreys):
Alun Wyn Jones is set to move clear at the top of his region’s all-time appearance list as he starts his 233rd Ospreys game against Zebre.
Five of the Welsh internationals that featured against South Africa last weekend are back in action at the Liberty Stadium.
George North starts on the wing along with Justin Tipuric at openside flanker, while Adam Beard and Owen Watkin are handed starts by Clarke.
Scott Williams will also make his first start since September, although Dan Lydiate is out injured.
Team news (Zebre Rugby):
Zebre make five changes from the defeat against Munster with Italian internationals Edoardo Padovani, scrum-half Guglielmo Palazzani and flanker Johan Meyer all starting.
In the pack, tight-head prop Eduardo Bello will start, while in the second-row captain George Biagi will join David Sisi.
On the bench, Italian international Giosuè Zilocchi is named along with permit player Jacopo Bianchi.
Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke said: “It’s been great to have the full squad together following what was a hugely successful Autumn International period for Wales – the energy and buzz has been fantastic.
“We’re together for the next seven weeks before the Six Nations and we’re conscious it’s a period that defines league positions at the back end of the season.
“Our opponents Zebre are the first in an important series of matches. For us it’s about concentrating on the basics and bringing the energy from training to the eighty minutes that matter.
“It’s a particularly special occasion for Alun Wyn, who will become the most capped Ospreys player of all time. He reflects what we stand for and as a team we want to make it a memorable night.”
Key battle: Alun Wyn Jones v George Biagi
On a landmark day, Jones will be expected to play a starring role against a physical Zebre line-up.
Jones shone throughout the autumn international campaign as the engine of the Wales pack and his influence will undoubtedly be felt at the Liberty Stadium on Friday.
In his path will stand Zebre captain George Biagi, who himself brings plenty of experience with 23 Italy caps to his name.
Key stat: The Italians have lost all five away games they have played this season in all tournaments, and have won just once before in Wales, on a trip to Cardiff Blues in September 2013.
Did you know? Zebre’s only two previous victories over Ospreys were both in Parma, in May 2014 and April 2018.
15. Dan Evans, 14. George North, 13. Scott Williams, 12. Owen Watkin, 11. Luke Morgan, 10. Sam Davies, 9. Aled Davies, 1. Nicky Smith, 2. Scott Baldwin, 3. Tom Botha, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Olly Cracknell, 7. Sam Cross, 8. Justin Tipuric (capt)
Replacements: 16. Scott Otten, 17. Gareth Thomas, 18. Alex Jeffries, 19. Lloyd Ashley, 20. James King, 21. Harri Morgan, 22. James Hook, 23. Cory Allen
15. Edoardo Padovani, 14. Paula Balekana, 13. Giulio Bisegni, 12. Tommaso Boni, 11. Jamie Elliott, 10. Francois Brummer, 9. Guglielmo Palazzani, 1. Cruze Ah-Nau, 2. Massimo Ceciliani, 3. Eduardo Bello, 4. David Sisi, 5. George Biagi (capt), 6. Maxime Mbandà, 7. Johan Meyer, 8. Giovanni Licata
Replacements: 16. Luhandre Luus, 17. Daniele Rimpelli, 18. Giosuè Zilocchi, 19. Apisai Tauyavuca, 20. Samuele Ortis, 21. Joshua Renton, 22. Maicol Azzolini, 23. Jacopo Bianchi
TV: At Liberty Stadium, Swansea 7.35pm. Live on Premier Sports, eir Sports, DAZN
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman, Elgan Williams
TMO: Ian Davies
Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton
Luke Morgan crossed for a treble as Ospreys were made to work hard before eventually claiming a bonus-point win over Zebre in their Guinness PRO14 clash on Friday night at the Liberty stadium.
The hosts are unbeaten at home in the league this season but it took a penalty try at scrum time to get them in front in a wasteful opening quarter.
And when Morgan crossed acrobatically in the left corner and Sam Davies slotted a penalty, the Ospreys were 15-0 to the good at the interval.
Three times the Welsh region were denied after half time by the TMO and in the end it was Morgan who dotted down, this time in the right corner to make the victory secure.
And in the closing stages they got their bonus point as Morgan got on the end of Davies’ cross kick.
And there was still time for replacement Scott Otten and Olly Cracknell to go over from rolling mauls and put the icing on the cake.
Both sides welcomed back a raft of internationals for this clash and they looked rusty at the outset.
The Ospreys in particular were guilty of wasting chances with handling errors while Francois Brummer leaked a penalty wide for the Italians.
But the pressure was beginning to mount as the half wore on and the scrum dominance of the Welsh region made the difference.
They won a penalty try for the home side and a massive Justin Tipuric tackle soon after signalled the men in black meant business.
A second try followed before the break, Morgan finishing acrobatically in the left corner after a long cut-out pass from Scott Williams released him.
Sam Davies could not convert but added a penalty soon after for a 15-0 lead at the break, Zebre’s cause not helped by the yellow card shown to Massimo Ceciliani.
However, the Italians weathered the storm at the start of the second half as Alun Wyn Jones, Morgan and Aled Davies all had tries ruled out by the TMO.
The hosts did get their third score just before the hour mark though, Morgan crossing in the right corner after a fine Davies pass released him.
And in the last ten minutes, the Ospreys turned the screw as Morgan got on the end of Davies’ speculative cross kick and Otten grounded at the back of a rolling maul.
And when Tommaso Boni saw yellow, Cracknell was the final try scorer of the night in a dominant win.
29 Nov 2018