Preview: Ospreys v Zebre

Date published: September 1 2016

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Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy has named Sam Davies at fly-half alongside Tom Habberfield for their PRO12 season opener against Zebre.

With Rhys Webb on the bench and Dan Biggar not named in the squad, the game at Liberty Stadium is a chance for the starters to shine.

Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric and Tyler Ardron form the back-row while Rory Thornton and Lloyd Ashley are the locks as Alun-Wyn Jones sits this game out.

Hugh Gustafson and Bradley Davies will make their Ospreys debuts if they come off the bench.

"It's been a positive pre-season, we've had a couple of really good run-outs and are in a pretty good position going into the opening weekend. Everybody is ready to go now, we understand that all the work up to this point has been about preparing, making sure we are ready to hit the ground running from the very first whistle on Friday night," said Tandy.

"It's important that we get the performance right in these opening weeks to give us a solid platform to build from for the rest of the season. It's not about the opposition, it's about how we prepare, making sure the attention to detail is there in everything we do, and being accurate. Get those things right and we are heading in the right direction. We know that nothing is won in September, but what last season showed is that if we don't get the basics right early on then it makes life very difficult as the season progresses. We don't want to be in that position again.

"It's great to be kicking off at home, in front of our own supporters, who can help us get off to a good start. We know that Zebre will provide a physical challenge for us, they've recruited well over the summer, bringing in some key players, and with the changes in Italian rugby over the summer, will definitely be up for it. We know that we've got to match their physicality while sticking to the task, and we are really looking forward to getting stuck into it."

Meanwhile, Zebre have named ten Italian internationals in their starting XV with four more included on the bench as they head to Swansea.

Former All Blacks Sevens star Kurt Baker wears the full-back jersey while Guglielmo Palazzani and Edoardo Padovani are the half-back duo.

Form: Ospreys' 26-46 reversal to Ulster at Liberty Stadium in round 22 of last season’s Guinness PRO12 ended a three game winning run in the Championship. Ospreys have never lost at home to an Italian opponent, achieving a bonus point victory in their last six such contests and conceding just a single losing bonus point, to Zebre, in a 16-15 victory at Liberty Stadium in January 2013. Zebre were victorious 47-22 against Newport Gwent Dragons in Parma in round 22 of the Guinness PRO12 and are attempting to achieve successive victories in the Championship for the first time since the New Year. Zebre’s only victory outside of Italy in the PRO12 came on a trip to Cardiff Blues in September 2013. Ospreys only previous defeat to Zebre was 27-30 in Parma on 1 May 2014, whilst the Welshmen have achieved a bonus point victory on the three most recent occasions.

The teams:

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Tom Habberfield (c), 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Lloyd Ashley, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben John, 23 Dafydd Howells

Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Lloyd Greeff, 13 Giulio Bisegni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Edoardo Padovani, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Maxime Mbandà, 6 Jacopo Sarto, 5 George Biagi (c), 4 Federico Ruzza, 3 Pietro Ceccarelli, 2 Tommaso D'Apice, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Giovanni Pettinelli, 21 Fabio Semenzato, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Boni

Date: Friday, September 2
Venue: Liberty Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Gaffikin (Ireland), tba (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

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