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Treviso 17 Ospreys 15

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 21, 2013

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THERE are some sights you do not expect to see in a city centre, one of which is a man playing a piano in a main square while shoppers walk around him.

Welcome to Treviso on Saturday afternoon.

Another sight that the locals are unused to is seeing their rugby side win in the Heineken Cup. Before yesterday, they hadn't triumphed at all this season and had only managed one success in the previous two campaigns.

But it is a record that doesn't do justice to a decent side, and in terrible conditions the Italians were able to account for the depleted visitors.

Two tries in the final five minutes did for the Ospreys, Andrea Pratichetti following Alessandro Zanni across the whitewash to deny the Welsh side victory.

Pratichetti pounced in the final minute.

Disgusted at the way the Ospreys had let slip an 11-point lead, Dan Biggar pounded the ground in frustration.

You wondered how the region's coaches would react.

You'd think they'd be furious at seeing their side lose a game they should have won with something to spare, having dominated the forward battle for long periods with James King outstanding.

But it counts for nothing if a side are unable to see out a game, and the Ospreys couldn't do that in northern Italy. For their young players, it will be a harsh lesson.

It all meant the Ospreys said arrivederci to the Heineken Cup for another season without the bang they'd been hoping for.

There is the consolation that so many young players have stepped up to the mark in Europe for the Pro12 champions this term. King had a towering game in the middle of the line-out yesterday and Sam Lewis, Lloyd Peers and Scott Baldwin put in big shifts as well.

But rugby is about winning.

A Tom Isaacs try and nine points with the boot from Biggar should have been enough. But if a side switches off late on there will inevitably be consequences.

It had rained heavily in Treviso beforehand. Indeed, it may never have rained so heavily in the place. To say the windscreen wipers on the little Fiats buzzing around the city were overworked yesterday morning is close to being the understatement of the year.

All things considered, it might have been easier for the Ospreys to make their way to the ground by gondola rather than by bus.

In such conditions the golden rule is to play the percentages and remember that while Gene Kelly managed to entertain in the rain, he wasn't a rugby player.

The need is to forget thoughts of tripping the light fantastic and instead focus on the basics of kicking for position, holding onto the ball and making your tackles.

The big question was whether the Ospreys could fire themselves up.

What's left, after all, for a side who have exited the Heineken Cup early? Pride? Courage? Momentum? European ranking points?

Tandy would have drummed such messages into the heads of his players before kick-off, not least because he wants the Ospreys to always be competitive, whether it be in a charity quiz, a sponsored walk or a dead-rubber Heineken Cup match.

His side were not helped beforehand by the withdrawal of Eli Walker, with the Wales squad wing pulled out as a precaution after experiencing a slight hamstring twinge during the team run on Saturday evening.

The Ospreys decided it wasn't worth risking Walker on a heavy pitch.

Ben John, a centre, came in as replacement.

It was the youngster's Heineken Cup debut, all his previous six appearances having come in the LV= Cup.

On the other wing was Tom Grabham, another player making his bow in this tournament. The onus was on Richard Fussell, at full-back, to look after the pair.

Credit the 28-year-old. There are driving instructors who have guided fewer L-platers than Fussell has been put in charge of this season.

He has a knack of getting them through their tests, too, with Tom Habberfield having negotiated his Leicester challenge the previous weekend, Walker in the Wales squad and Hanno Dirksen making major progress before being hit by injury.

Umbrellas were to the fore on the terracing opposite the main stand. Adding to the discomfort of the hardy souls who took up their places on the concrete steps was a chill factor that hovered around the freezing mark. La dolce vita this wasn't.

It was 6-3 to the Ospreys after 20 minutes, Biggar having answered Kris Burton's early penalty with two of his own.

Treviso tend to fancy their chances at the set-piece and they would have taken heart by the absence through injury of the strong-scrummaging Richard Hibbard.

But they were given food for thought when their eight were marched back ten metres by an Ospreys scrum powered by the old firm of Duncan Jones and Adam Jones.

The pitch was appalling in parts, resembling a chocolate blancmange.

That being the case you'd have to question whether it was the greatest idea to have 60-odd kids churn it up further with games of mini-rugby during the break. Why not go further and ask a local farmer to bring his tractor down next time and get the job done properly.

The Ospreys did try to move the ball but it was hard to make headway — and Treviso's defence was up the challenge for long periods, anyway, with Robert Barbieri a particularly keen defender.

The match became an attritional battle, with both sides relying on their big forwards to make hard yards.

Standing tall in the first hour was King with a series of impressive line-out catches and a defensive performance of zeal and ferocity.

Not far behind him in productivity stakes was Lewis, backed by Peers and Jonathan Thomas.

The game became bogged down in the no-man's land between the 22s. Individuals would charge forward, only to be mown down. Really, General Haig could have been coaching.

Eventually, Biggar pulled the trigger for the Ospreys, firing over a drop-goal that put them 9-3 ahead with half-an-hour left to play.

Isaacs pounced down the right for the first try as the Treviso defence fell asleep, but the Italians roused themselves to claim a touchdown of their own, Alessandro Zanni diving over after a period of forward pressure.

Pratichetti crossed for the winning try with the last move of the game. Biggar hammered the sodden surface in frustration at a game lost that should have been won.

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  • abertawejack  |  January 21 2013, 10:41PM

    Two minutes remaining and what does our scrum half do! kick it out to them, the resulting counter attack gives Treviso the game. When most of the time we had ball retention by charging into the opposition. This was a hard fought encounter in squalid conditions made worse by the state of the pitch, though the half time interval didn't help it much either. We should never had lost this match, we threw it away.

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