Ospreys travel to Benetton Treviso in Round 18 of the Guinness PRO12 on Saturday evening with a chance to go top of the table.
The Welsh side have been in good form in recent weeks but they will face a Treviso side determined to put some breathing space between themselves and Italian rivals Zebre.
What’s at stake?
Ospreys’ scintillating form – they have lost just once in the last nine rounds of Guinness PRO12 action – has them on course to book a home semi-final.
That lone defeat was a 25-23 home loss to Munster in mid-February but it is another Irish province, Leinster, that Ospreys are now focused on.
They trail Leo Cullen’s table-topping troops by just two points and victory in Italy on Saturday could leapfrog the Welshmen up from second.
Treviso have won just two Guinness PRO12 games this season, the most recent of which was a 23-12 triumph over Zebre on December 23.
Their other victory came back in Round 4 against Newport Gwent Dragons and although they lie 11th in the current standings, they are two points above Zebre.
Treviso team news
Treviso coach Kieran Crowley has flown to New Zealand for family reasons, meaning the matchday squad has been chosen by the Benetton Rugby technical staff.
Full-back will be David Odiete, on the wings Angelo Esposito and Luca Sperandio, while Tommaso Iannone and Alberto Sgarbi will be the centres.
Tito Tebaldi is named at scrum-half and Ian McKinley at fly-half.
The front row is Federico Zani, Luca Bigi and Simone Ferrari, while the locks are Filippo Gerosa and captain Dean Budd.
The back row consists of Francesco Minto, Marco Lazzaroni and Robert Barbieri at No.8.
Ospreys team news
Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy has made three changes from the side that edged past Edinburgh 13-9 last time out, all of those coming in the pack.
Paul James is in for Nicky Smith at loosehead prop, while the engine room has Lloyd Ashley replacing Tyler Ardron to partner Rory Thornton.
In the back row, Dan Baker comes in for Sam Underhill but will play at No.8, meaning James King switches to blindside flanker and Olly Cracknell slides from the No.6 shirt to the openside.
Tandy has 14 players unavailable for selection due to injury, including internationals such as Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Scott Baldwin and Jeff Hassler.
Ospreys are right in the top-four mix and while Tandy claims that is no less than his side deserve for their performances this season, he is adamant they won’t be resting on their laurels.
“Everybody is really excited about what’s in store for us between now and the end of the season,” said Tandy.
“Our performances this far have put us in a solid position to kick-on for the play-offs but there’s a hell of a lot of hard work ahead of us so nobody is taking anything for granted.
“If we don’t maintain the standards we’ve set then everything we’ve done so far will go to waste.
“We are firmly in control of our own destiny and that’s a good place to be in at this stage. We know that if we do what we have to do over the next five rounds we can secure a semi-final spot regardless of what anybody else does.
“It starts this weekend in Treviso against a side who are physical, who have a big pack and who will always cause a team problems.
“We’ve slipped up there a few times in the past so we know that we’ve got to be at our best to get what we want.”
Key battle: Dean Budd v Rory Thornton
It is youth against experience in the battle for second-row supremacy and whoever comes out on top could well lead their side to glory at Stadio Monigo.
As well as being a solid lineout technician and a fierce defender, Treviso skipper Dean Budd has proven himself to be a consistent attacking threat this season.
No Treviso player has scored more tries in the Guinness PRO12 this season than Budd’s four, while the 30-year-old New Zealander’s penchant for a spectacular offload can unlock a defence.
Contrastingly, Rory Thornton is only 22 years old but is one of the best young players in the PRO12 and it appears to be only a matter of time until he makes his Wales debut.
A young lock could hardly ask for a better mentor than fellow Osprey Alun Wyn Jones and the youngster shares Jones’ leadership qualities, having captained Wales Under-20s.
At 1.96m tall and weighing 103kg, Budd is very rarely the smaller man in any given battle, but he will be giving up five inches in height and over 20kg to Thornton on Sunday.
Ospreys have not lost to an Italian side in the PRO12 since a visit to Zebre in May 2014.
Did you know?
Treviso’s most recent victory over Ospreys was in the European Champions Cup in January 2015, whilst their only win over the Welshmen in the PRO12 was in August 2012.
Treviso top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66pts. Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4
Ospreys top points scorer: Sam Davies 94pts. Top try scorer: Dafydd Howells 6
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Treviso won 1, Ospreys won 12.
At Stadio Monigo, 8.35pm local time (7.35pm UK & Ireland) Live on S4C and Eurosport Italy
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 148th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Rhys Thomas (WRU), Giuseppe Vivarini (FIR)
Citing Commissioner: Maurizio Vancini (FIR)
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)
Ospreys missed the chance to move back into second in the Guinness PRO12 table after Treviso upset the form book with a win at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
Neither side showed their full capabilities in a low-scoring game but a try from Alberto Sgarbi and penalties from Tito Tebaldi and Ian McKinley were enough to secure the win.
Treviso showed their intent from the start and launched an attack that got within five metres of the Ospreys line, but a knock on left the home crowd unfulfilled and Ospreys could clear.
The home side kept coming though and had a chance to trouble the scorers from the kicking tee, but the penalty from Tebaldi drifted wide after eight minutes.
It remained all Treviso, though, until Ospery’s Dan Baker took advantage of quick ball from the back of a five metre scrum and ended up breaking to the half way line.
The home side did not have long to wait for their first breakthrough, though, as Sgarbi finally made the pressure tell and crossed in the 18th minute for the opening score – converted by Tebaldi.
Errors and knock-ons from both sides kept the game a scrappy affair until a break from Keelan Giles lit up the play five minutes later – Treviso forced him into touch before he could do any real damage, though, as Ospreys struggled to make an impact on the game.
The try did come though and it was that man Giles again, as the lightning-quick winger latched onto onto quick ball fed from Sam Davies to Dan Evans and went over in the right corner for an easy score with the clock in the red – the fly-half missed the conversion though to send Ospreys in trailing by two.
Neither side could settle into the game as more errors characterised the opening to the second period, but when Ospreys were penalised for wheeling the scrum Tebaldi could kick to the corner with 50 minutes gone.
Treviso could not build on the platform, however, instead turning the ball over and allowing Ospreys to clear their lines.
But they did extend their lead just before the hour, with Tebaldi kicking a routine penalty after Ospreys were again penalised at the scrum.
Once again it was Giles who sparked the game into life, launching a blistering attack from inside his own 22, streaking into the Treviso half and feeding Brendon Leonard but the replacement was brought down in the opposition 22 and Treviso managed to scramble the ball clear.
Giles again took the fight to Treviso with a break and chip over the Italian’s defence to gain territory after Davies had done well to run the ball out of his own in-goal area, but they could not capitalise on the break and when they were penalised within range with eight minutes to play, McKinley put the home side eight points ahead.
It was a kick that would prove decisive as Treviso ran the clock down to record a famous victory and keep Ospreys third in the table, without even registering a losing bonus point.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie.
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final