Ospreys 23 Aironi 7
The Ospreys began life under new head coach Steve Tandy with a hard-fought RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Italian side Aironi at the Liberty Stadium.
Tries at either end of the match – one a penalty touchdown and the other from centre Andrew Bishop – plus three penalties and a conversion by outside-half Dan Biggar and another two points from Matthew Morgan gave the Ospreys the win.
Aironi’s only score came via a converted try by wing Sinoti Sinoti.
It has been a turbulent week for the Welsh team. Just two days before the game, head coach Sean Holley and rugby director Scott Johnson left after a backroom shake-up, although Johnson’s departure was due at the end of the season anyway for a job in Scotland.
And, although they could not afford to be complacent, Tandy and the Ospreys forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys could be glad they were facing the league’s bottom side rather than one of the more powerful units for their debut.
Considering they were down by 16 players due to various international duties, and had another eight out injured, the Ospreys did well to get a team on the pitch at all.
And it was a real grind for the best part of 70 minutes as the hosts edged their way to the win before it picked up in the last moments.
They produced a workmanlike display through a poor first half, and led 10-0 at the break.
The early penalty try – when Aironi’s scrum collapsed as they were being driven over their own line – which Biggar converted, set the Ospreys on their way.
Biggar added a penalty on 25 minutes to extend the lead to 10-0 but Aironi came close to scoring even when down to 14 men.
Italy flanker Mauro Bergamasco was sent to the sin-bin on 33 minutes for an elbow offence on home scrum-half Rhys Webb which immediately saw the Ospreys half-back leave the match with a bloodied and cut face.
Biggar increased the advantage with his second penalty after the break, which also brought up his 900th Ospreys point.
Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones, leading from the front with international partner hooker Richard Hibbard, helped his side put real pressure on the Italians, but they were unable to convert that threat into points due to errors.
Aironi made inroads into the home half but the two chances they had in the space of three minutes to get their score ticking came to nothing as outside-half Naas Olivier pushed two 30-metre penalties wide of the uprights.
Where Olivier missed, Biggar was accurate to extended the Ospreys’ lead to 16 points with his third penalty of the night from 38 metres after Aironi had strayed offside.
The Aironi defence was robust, but again mistakes cost the hosts further tries, with prop Jo Rees losing control of maul possession for the Italians to turnover on their own line, and lock James King too heavy with a grubber kick when the chance was there.
It was only when Sinoti found space on 76 minutes to rush over under the posts, giving Olivier a simple conversion, that the game found new life.
Moments later, a crashing tackle by flanker Tom Smith on the Aironi midfield saw the ball pop loose and Bishop seize his chance to canter 40 metres for a try under the posts, easily converted by replacement Morgan.