Preview: Zebre v Ospreys

Date published: April 30 2014

Ospreys boss Steve Tandy has made several changes to his starting line-up for Thursday's RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Zebre in Parma.

Ospreys boss Steve Tandy has made several changes to his starting XV for Thursday's clash with Zebre in Parma.

Amongst the backs, Sam Davies comes in at full-back for Richard Fussell while Aisea Natoga takes over from Jeff Hassler on the wing and Andrew Bishop replaces Jonathan Spratt in the midfield.

Up front, James King starts on the blindside flank in Joe Bearman's place, Ian Evans starts in the second-row, alongside captain Alun-Wyn Jones, while Ryan Jones drops down to the bench.

The only other change sees Nicky Smith taking over from Duncan Jones at loosehead prop. This will be Smith's first start for the Ospreys. Ryan Jones will make his 150th Ospreys appearance if he comes off the bench.

This is an important fixture for the Ospreys as it is their final league match of the season. They need to win if they want to stand an outside chance of making the play-offs.

“This is a crucial game for us,” said Tandy.

“If we want to extend our season beyond next weekend we know that we have to go to Parma and win, there are no ifs or buts about it. We've had a good week preparing for it, there is a positive mood in the group and everybody knows what's at stake over the next ten days.

“Our fate isn't in our own hands, but we have to concentrate on doing what we need to do first and foremost, to ensure that if results elsewhere go our way we are able to take advantage. That didn't happen last season, where it turned out that just one win in the final two games would have been enough to take us through in the end. We have to make sure that isn't the case this season.

“It's a big challenge for this group, there's no doubt about it. It's a very young starting team, with an average age of just 24, but there is plenty of experience there to provide the on-field guidance that we'll need at key moments.

“When you look at the youth in the team it is genuinely exciting to think about the potential this group of players has for the coming years, if they continue to work hard on and off the field.

“This region has a very bright future, I'm absolutely sure about that, but we can't look too far ahead. The focus has to be entirely on the job in hand. That is, to put in a very professional performance against Zebre where everybody is fully prepared, knows their roles, and are clinical in everything they do.

“We want to make sure we go into the final game, against Connacht at the Liberty, with everything still to play for. It'll be great to end the regular season at home in such a big game, but we know that if we let ourselves down on Thursday night that won't be the case, so we know what we have to do.”

Meanwhile, Zebre boss Andrea Cavinato has made five changes to his starting line-up for this encounter.

In the back-line, Dion Berryman replaces Leonardo Sarto on the right wing while Kameli Ratuvou takes over from Tommaso Iannone at outside centre.

And in the forwards, Mauro Bergamasco takes over on the blindside flank from Filippo Cristiano, who was in the run-on side when Zebre beat Edinburgh two weeks ago.

The other changes sees captain Marco Bortolami coming into the second-row to partner Quintin Geldenhuys with George Biagi moving down to the bench and Salvatore Perugini replaces Matias Aguero at loosehead prop.

Form: Zebre are still very much in contention for the Italian spot in next season's European Cup, being just four points behind Treviso, and really need to win this match. Zebre are unbeaten in their last three matches in Parma since losing there to Connacht in Round 15. Ospreys are also still in the mix for a Play-Off spot having won three of their last four RaboDirect PRO12 contests, but have not won a game on opposition soil in any tournament in 2014. Ospreys have won all three previous contests with Zebre, with the Italians' only league point being earned during the 15-16 defeat at Liberty Stadium last season.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 David Odiete, 14 Dion Berryman, 13 Kameli Ratuvou, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Andries van Schalkwyk, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dave Ryan 19 George Biagi, 20 Filippo Ferrarini, 21 Guglielmo Palazzini, 22 Tommaso Iannone, 23 Ruggero Trevisan.

Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Aisea Natoga, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Ian Evans, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith.
Replacements: 16 Scott Otten, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Adam Jones, 19 Ryan Jones, 20 Joe Bearman, 21 Sam Lewis, 22 Tito Tebaldi, 23 Jeff Hassler.

Date: Thursday, May 1
Venue: Stadio XXV Aprile, Parma
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 BST, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Elia Rizzo (Italy), Filippo Bertelli (Italy)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)