By David Williams
You have to go back to 2 January, 2021 for the last time Zebre won an away match in the BKT United Rugby Championship and last weekend’s opening round defeat to Ulster was their 20th defeat in a row.
But Ospreys head coach Toby Booth, who has spent the past week studying the Italian side, knows his team will be in for a battle at the Swansea.Com Stadium in Round 2.
They gave Ulster a huge fright at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi last weekend, matching their six tries and taking two points from a 40-36 reverse, and Booth is well aware they will be targeting a much-needed win on Welsh soil.
The last time they won in the URC was at home against the Dragons, 23-18 on 30 April 2022. Their new defence coach, Richard Hodges, will know all about the Ospreys set-up from his lengthy period on the Cardiff coaching team.
This weekend, Ian Kenny will become the first Super Series match official to make his URC refereeing debut at the Osprey v Zebre Parma match at Swansea Stadium on Saturday.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 26, 2023
Hodges was in charge of the Cardiff team that beat the Ospreys on Judgement Day at the end of last season too wrestle the Welsh Shield from their grasp and clinch an Invesco Champions Cup spot for this season.
“We know they are going to be a handful. They are looking more like a traditional Italian side this season, with a big, physical set of forwards,” said Booth.
“There has been a lot more maul play in their pre-season games and last weekend against Ulster. We know they’ve gone a long spell without a win, but their performance last weekend showed just how much they have improved.”
While Zebre were putting the wind up one Irish side on the opening weekend, the Ospreys were forced to claw their way back into a tough contest at Connacht in Galway. Having changed ends 27-3 in arrears, they fought back to pick up a four-try bonus point in a game that ended 34-26.
. @catheledd presents live action from the URC as Ospreys play host to Zebre.
🏉 Scrum V Live
📺 Tomorrow, 12.45pm, BBC One Wales pic.twitter.com/bay41YOEYg
— BBC Wales 🏴 (@BBCWales) October 27, 2023
That was one of four defeats for the Welsh regions in Round 1. The Ospreys have a 1.00pm kick off in Round 2 and will therefore get the chance to post the first win of the season for a Welsh side.
“The fact we rallied to get a try bonus-point says something about our identity. We probably deserved to get two points out of the game, but you don’t always get what you deserve,” said Booth.
“We were staring down the barrel at one stage in the game. Two years ago we went there, were dominated throughout and came up with no answers.
“This time we grew into the game and fought back. It was a good benchmark for us and there were at least some green shoots to cling onto and help us move forward.”
Wales World Cup loose head prop Nicky Smith has made himself available for this weekend and hooker Sam Parry might well be able to return after injury. However, Will Griffiths has been ruled out with a shoulder problem he picked up in Galway.
Dan Lydiate started at No 8 just once in his first spell at the Dragons.
The chop-tackling blindside is back in that role against Cardiff on Sunday. He's in for Ollie Griffiths, who should be fine for Munster next week.
— Chris Kirwan (@c_kirwan) October 27, 2023
On Sunday, it’s the first Welsh derby of the season when the Dragons host Cardiff and both teams welcome back World Cup squad members for this Rodney Parade clash.
The Dragons field Dan Lydiate at No 8, as he makes his first appearance for the Gwent region in ten years following a decade away at Racing 92 and the Ospreys, while Cardiff call on scrum-half Tomos Williams, prop Corey Domachowski and centre Mason Grady.
Shane Lewis-Hughes continues at lock for the visitors amid his conversion from the back row, with fellow international forward Thomas Young having regained fitness in time to take a spot on the bench.
🐉 𝙏𝙀𝘼𝙈 | Here are your Dragons 2️⃣3️⃣ to face @Cardiff_Rugby in a huge 🏴 derby at Rodney Parade on Sunday afternoon, 2:30pm KO! 💪
— Dragons RFC (@dragonsrugby) October 27, 2023
Cardiff have won 15 in a row against the Dragons in the BKT URC and coach Matt Sherratt knows his team are in for a lively welcome in Newport with the home fans desperate to see that run come to an end.
“I love going to Rodney Parade. It’s a proper derby,” he said.
“I used to watch Gloucester at Kingsholm and it’s a little bit similar at times. It’s pretty raucous. But that’s why you are in the game. It’s the best places to watch and play I find.
“It’s usually a pretty good encounter against the Dragons in terms of there is a fair bit of edge and a fair bit of spice involved.
“I think the last eight all been one score games. Most derbies are pretty tight affairs.
“It’s got the potential to be a really good game. There will be some good match-ups around the field and it should be a good occasion.”
Dragons boss Dai Flanagan commented: “Cardiff will come into the game as favourites because of their record against us. There’s an expectation that they win. But I saw a lovely saying the other day that underdogs are hungry dogs. We’ll be hungry on the weekend.”
🐉 𝙋𝙍𝙀𝙑𝙄𝙀𝙒 | Head Coach Dai Flanagan previews this weekend's derby fixture 🆚 @Cardiff_Rugby at Rodney Parade, discusses selection & injury update! 💪⤵️
— Dragons RFC (@dragonsrugby) October 27, 2023