Ospreys (17) 34
Tries: Morgan-Williams, Protheroe, Nagy, N Smith Cons: Walsh (4) Pens: Walsh, O Williams
Zebre (19) 31
Tries: Gesi (2), Bigi, Gregory (2) Cons: Prisciantelli (3)
A man of the match display from captain Justin Tipuric inspired The Ospreys to a thrilling 34-31 victory against Italian side Zebre this afternoon in the United Rugby Championship fixture at the Swansea.com Stadium.
Tipuric, celebrating his recent 200 cap landmark for the region used all of his experience to lead his young teammates to a hard-fought win in a bruising encounter.
The visitors had raced into an early 12-point lead through scores from wing Simone Gesi and hooker Luca Bigi as things looked ominous for Toby Booth’s side. The Ospreys though came back with spirit with replies from Reuban Morgan Williams and a fine individual Mat Protheroe try reducing the arrears at the break.
The second period saw the Ospreys have the better of the play with Max Nagy immediately scoring from the re-start and the returning Nicky Smith going over, between Gesi’s second for the Italians. Replacement Gregory scored a late double for Zebre, but a crucial Owen Williams penalty with minutes remaining sealed the result for the home side.
Both sides came into the match looking for their first wins of the season after losses against Irish opposition last weekend. For the Ospreys, a spirited second half fightback saw a bonus point gained in the 34-26 loss to Connacht in Galway, offering plenty of optimism to Toby Booth and his young side.
Today’s opposition Zebre would be a dangerous challenge for the Ospreys. Having taken Ulster all the way in their narrow 40-36 loss in Parma, visible improvements had been made by Fabio Roselli’s team who looked like a shadow of the side that failed to register a win in the whole of the previous campaign.
Booth chose to make four changes to his Ospreys side with Dom Morris coming in to partner Owen Watkin at centre, Protheroe starting on the wing, Jack Walsh at ten and Hugh Sutton coming in at second row. There would also be a welcome return from international duty for loosehead-prop Smith after being part of the Wales squad at the World Cup in France.
It would be the visiting side who would start the brighter opening the scoring in the fifth minute after a period of sustained pressure. Wing Gesi bursting free from a challenge to score for Zebre after a flowing move.
The power of the visitors would prove too strong minutes later as the Italian side would extend their lead through experienced international hooker Bigi who would drive over in the ruck after a successful lineout was won inside the Ospreys ten metre line.
The Ospreys would dig deep and respond with a score of their own as they seemed to settle into the game. Morgan-Williams finishing a sweeping counter-attacking move filled with crisp passing, all started from a burst from Tipuric inside his own half.
As confidence grew the home side took the lead for the first time. England under-20 full back Protheroe producing a brilliant piece of individual skill from just inside the opposition half to dart around several Zebre challenges before squeezing his way through to dive over the try line in style.
The lead, however, would be short-lived as the visitors would take advantage of a lapse in concentration in the Osprey defense to allow Gesi too much space and time on the ball. Despite a last-ditch recovering tackle, the wing would stretch over the try line to score in the corner.
With renewed impetus, Zebre would once more use their brute force and power to their advantage, but the Ospreys would hold firm and would go into the break just two points behind with the boot of Jack Walsh reducing the deficit, punishing opposite fly-half Geronimo Prisciantelli’s lack of conviction at the other end off the tee.
Much like in Connacht the week before the Ospreys would fly out of the blocks to score early in the opening minutes of the second half. Nagy picking the ball up on his wing on the left-hand side before cutting in to catch the Zebre defense cold to score under the posts.
Despite some strong defensive work from the visitors, the Ospreys would work through the phases and would secure the all-important attacking bonus point with Smith crashing over to provide the home side with a twelve-point cushion.
In a bruising second-half with several casualties on both sides, as the rain started to fall the game would become scrappy. The visitors would look to slow the game and against the run of play replacement back Gregory would take advantage of confusion in the Ospreys defense to reduce his side’s arrears. The kiwi-born back scoring in the corner from a two-on-one situation.
This produced a back-and-forth finale with both sides looking for a decisive fifth try. The Ospreys looked the more likely as Zebre replacement Ion Neculai spent the last few minutes in the sin bin for ill-discipline. It would be though the trusty boot of replacement Williams who would seal the match, converting the resulting penalty to put the tie out of reach for the visitors. Gregory got his second try of the match in added time for Zebra, but it would be the Ospreys who would gain their first win of the season.
Ospreys XV: Nagy (O Williams 48), L Morgan, Morris (Lloyd 62), Watkin, Protheroe (K Williams 37), Walsh, Morgan-Williams, Phillips (N Smith 32), Lewis (R Davies 62), Botha (Henry 54), R Davies, Sutton (Fender 58), Ratti, Tipuric (captain), M Morris.
Zebre XV: Pani, Bruno, Smith Jnr, Lucchin, Gesi, Prisciantelli, Garcia (Fusco 51), Buonfiglio (Rizzoli 44), Bigi (Manfredi 44), Pitinari (Neculai 47), Sisi (De Leeuw 65), Zambonin, Volpi, Ferrari, Licata (captain) (Stavile 55 (Montemauri 75)).
[Lead image: Ospreys Rugby]
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