RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Zebre beat Ospreys

RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Zebre are 30-27 winners against Ospreys

Zebre
30
Ospreys
27

Ospreys throw away play-off hopes

Needing a win to keep up pressure on Ulster in the race for a RaboDirect Pro12 play-off spot, on paper, Steve Tandy’s Ospreys should have walked their penultimate game of the season. Unbeaten against Italian opposition in nine contests, the Welsh region were nailed on to at least secure four points, the biggest question was whether they could get the bonus point to move above Ulster into fourth. For the most part, it was a shambolic, error-strewn display which saw them 16-6 behind in the first half. Their fortunes improved in the first quarter after the break, with a great try for Justin Tipuric inside 35 seconds of the restart before Ashley Beck and captain Alun Wyn Jones went over, but with 13 minutes left to grab the fourth try they needed, the Ospreys contrived to allow Zebre back into the match. Despite the Italians looking fatigued in the closing staegs, Aisea Natoga looked sluggish on the left wing as he twice spurned try-scoring opportunities when one-on-one. With Zebre down to 14 men with three minutes remaining, the Ospreys would never get a better chance, but somehow threw it away as Natoga was bundled into touch and Zebre were allowed to run the ball back from their own tryline, eventually moving through the phases into the Ospreys 22 and over the line for a win they hadn’t deserved until that moment with Jones also binned for dissent and the penalty moved 10 metres closer to the Ospreys tryline. Even for a team with a lot of youngsters, there was no excuse to allow that to happen with old heads in the forwards and, if they don’t make the play-offs, they can only blame themselves not just for this performance but several occasions this season when they have failed to show up for 80 minutes.

Zebre close in on European jackpot

Guglielmo Palazzani’s last-minute try may have severely dented the Ospreys’ Pro12 play-off ambitions, but it meant even more for Zebre in their battle with fellow Italians Benetton Treviso. Zebre’s latest surprise win sees Treviso slip to the foot of the table on the second tie-break of points difference with the two clubs locked on 29 points and five wins each. Heavy defeats for Treviso at the Ospreys and Leinster major factors in their -192 difference, compared to -158 for Zebre. The Italians may still be seen by many as the whipping boys of the league, but both clubs have shown in the last month that they can more than mix it with and defeat the Celtic clubs on home soil, with Zebre securing wins over Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh and, now, Ospreys, as well as a draw with Newport Gwent Dragons, while Treviso have secured wins against Edinburgh and the Dragons and came close to a famous win over Ulster in February. The qualification criteria of the new Rugby Champions Cup may well have something to do with that in recent weeks with only the highest-placed Italian club guaranteed a place at the new 20-club top table in European rugby whereas both qualified in recent years. Despite being at the bottom of the table, every win or losing bonus point is even more vital than before and second-placed Glasgow Warriors will be well aware of that threat as they head to the Stadio Monigo in Treviso on Friday evening.

Ospreys lack clinical edge

The Ospreys may have swept aside their Welsh rivals this season, but have consistently struggled against the rest of the top six. A home win against Leinster last month offered hope, but that was ultimately shattered at the Stadio XXV Aprile. The worry for them is their inability to kill off matches. Tandy’s side may have picked up five try-scoring bonus points from 21 matches, but six of their eight defeats have resulted in losing bonus points—only seventh-placed Edinburgh have picked up more losing bonus points. Captain Alun Wyn Jones may be staying, but the Ospreys are losing a lot of experience in the forwards this summer with Richard Hibbard, Ian Evans and Ryan Jones already confirmed departures, while Adam Jones—who still has not started a match since returning from the Six Nations—is expected to be playing rugby elsewhere. Their backline is also relatively green. Of the players who started in Parma, only centre Andrew Bishop is over 24. There may be some injury problems, but that doesn’t excuse anything. There is plenty of pace and talent in that backline, but none have really stood out this season with the exception of Dan Biggar, whose kicking has too often come to the rescue. The Ospreys may be on a mission to sign up all their talented youngsters on long-term professional contracts, but signing a world class back or two would go a long way to fixing their defensive frailties.

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