Preview: Zebre v Ospreys

Date published: February 9 2017

Zebre will return to the rugby field after a two-week break when they host the Ospreys in their PRO12 clash in Parma on Friday.

Faialaga Afamasaga and Matteo Pratichetti return to the side after missing the last match against Wasps in the Champions Cup.

In the back three New Zealander Kurt Baker will play at full-back while on the wings Lloys Greeff and Mattia Bellini will take up the 11 and 14 jerseys respectively. The centre pair will be made up of Tommaso Boni at outside centre and Pratichetti at inside.

In the forward pack they'll have two Argentina props with Bruno Postiglioni at loosehead and Guillermo Roan at tighthead with hooker Oliviero Fabian. In the second-row captain Quintin Geldenhuys will bind up with Valerio Bernabo for his 50th appearance for Zebre while in the loose trio Federico Ruzza starts at number eight while the two South Africans, Johan Meyer and Derick Minnie. will make up the flankers.

Meanwhile, Ospreys have made wholesale changes to their side after 14 players were unavailable for selection due to international duty with senior, U20 and the Sevens squads.

Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said it was an important time for his side with so many players missing.

"Six Nations time is always an important period for us, without fail, and this year is no different. We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent position and we can’t let that slip while the internationals are away. Yes, we have players missing and the injury list is growing but we can’t use it as an excuse. Everybody in the squad has to front up. That’s the Ospreys way," he said. 

"This time of the year is always a great opportunity for players to come in and show what they are about and we’ll be looking at some of the boys in this group to see how they take their chance. We know what’s at stake, if we can get the performance level where it needs to be over the next four weeks, it can really set us up for an exciting end of season.

"Zebre will be difficult, they always are at their place. They’ll be physical, forward oriented, and it’s going to be a real test. It’s a short turnaround from Sunday but we want to capitalise on some of the momentum we’ve built up in the Anglo-Welsh over the last couple of weeks. The core of that squad will feature heavily, on Friday night and over the next few weeks, and we’ve brought in a core of experience that’ll be a bit fresher after some time away from the front line.

"It’s an exciting mix if I’m honest. There’s a real enthusiasm around the group at the moment, training has had an edge to it. Everyone knows what the standard is that is expected of them over this period and can’t wait to get going."

In the backline, Ben John will start at 14 in place of Keelan Giles and on the other wing Dafydd Howells replaces Hanno Dirksen. With Dan Biggar reporting for international duty Luke Price takes over as fly-half.

In the forward pack Sam Underhill and Tyler Ardron replace Justin Tipuric and James King in the flank positions respectively. Lloyd Ashley and Adam Beard will make up a new second-row and in the front-row Rhodri Jones starts at tighthead, Paul James at loosehead while Sam Parry keeps his place at hooker.

Form: Zebre's only victory this season was 19-14 against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in round 7 of the Guinness PRO12, whilst they have not been victorious in Parma since beating Dragons there on 7 May. Ospreys only reversal in the last eight rounds of the PRO12 was 0-33 to Munster in Cork on 4 November. Ospreys have not lost to an Italian side since facing Zebre at Parma in May 2014. The two sides have met on nine previous occasions with Zebre’s only victory being 30-27 at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in round 21 of the 2013/14 campaign.

The teams:

Zebre: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Mattia Bellini, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Lloys Greeff, 10 Serafin Bordoli, 9 Guglielmo Palazzani, 8 Federico Ruzza, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Valerio Bernabò, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (c), 3 Guillermo Roan, 2 Oliviero Fabiani, 1 Bruno Postiglioni
Replacements: 16 Adriano Daniele, 17 Andrea De Marchi, 18 Bartholomeus Le Roux, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Davide Fragnito, 21 Carlo Engelbrecht, 22 Faialaga Afamasaga, 23 Maicol Azzolini

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Ben John, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Luke Price, 9 Tom Habberfield (c), 8 Dan Baker, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tyler Ardron, 5 Lloyd Ashley, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Rhodri Jones, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Hugh Gustafson, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Olly Cracknell, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Hanno Dirksen, 23 Jonathan Spratt

Date: Friday, February 10
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Kick-off: 20:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sam Grove-White (Scotland), Stefano Bolzonella (Italy)