There hasn’t been a time where the Scarlets have been such favourites to win the local derby against the Ospreys. The Liberty Stadium outfit’s ending to last season was merely a taste of what was to come as they currently have the sole home victory against Zebre this season as they face the possibility of their fifth consecutive defeat.
In contrast, their neighbours from the west won plaudits for not only winning the Pro12 last season, but the manner in which it was won. So far this season, the reigning Champions’ sole loss was an away game in Ulster where they did manage to secure a losing bonus point. Winning 21 out of their last 24 league matches and a full 5 points from the four victories this season, the Scarlets certainly seem to be clear favourites to keep hold of the South Wales Evening Post Cup!
However, this is a local derby, and past experience has proved that statistics and form go out of the window. It’s all about the passion, the emotion and the Ospreys will certainly relish home advantage.
The late withdrawal of Leigh Halfpenny with a tight hamstring proved a blow for the visitors, but with the current strength in depth available in the squad, Johnny McNicholl was named at Full Back with exciting new signing Paul Asquith starting on the Wing and Rhys Jones joining the bench.
The Scarlets came close to scoring after just a few minutes played with Rhys Patchell demonstrating his pace as he powered down the wing before passing to his half back partner, but Gareth Davies was unable to get his pass away.
The Ospreys opened the scoring following a penalty decision for a late tackle on Dan Biggar who was successful with his kick to give the home team a 3 point to 0 advantage.
Rhys Patchell was offered a long-range effort to level the game, however his kick was wide of the posts as the Scarlets struggled to make any real impact on the game.
A try saving tackle from Aaron Shingler saw the Flanker somehow hold Nicky Smith up, but despite his heroics, the Ospreys were able to take advantage of a penalty in a perfect attacking field position. Despite completing a number of passes, play was very lateral and hardly tested the Scarlets’ defence before they lost the ball and the Scarlets were able to clear their lines.
As the visitors continued to play their way out of their half, Aaron Shingler won a personal battle against Dan Lydiate with a superb tackle, resulting in a penalty for the men in red.
In a similar vein to the match against Ulster, the Osprey tactic of starving the Scarlets of having any ball seemed to be working. With the tension on the pitch evident, tempers began to fray resulting in Tadgh Beirne being given a yellow card, bizarrely before referee John Lacey reviewed any footage. Despite a clear elbow to the face for Gareth Davies from his fellow Scrum Half Rhys Webb, Lacey decided that no further action would be taken even though there was a clear argument for both sides to be down to 14 men.
With the first half drawing to a close, Patchell was offered another chance to put the Scarlets on the score board. Unfortunately, despite a 100% kicking record so far this season, again his kick sailed wide.
Lacey’s decisions again proved costly for the Scarlets as he clearly missed a foot in touch from Dan Lydiate despite Aaron Shingler bringing it to his attention. Despite this, Biggar kicked his third penalty of the evening to give the Ospreys a 9 point to 0 lead at half time.
The second half saw the Scarlets finally get a foot hold in the game, getting the start they needed. A break from Steff Evans saw him pass to Gareth Davies who powered over for the opening try of the evening that was eventually awarded by Lacey. Again, Patchell missed the conversion, but the Scarlets were finally on the score board – 9 points to 5.
Unfortunately, as inconsistent as Rhys Patchell was with his kicking, Dan Biggar continued with his 100% record as he slotted over a fourth to increase the Ospreys’ lead to 12 points to 5.
It was almost a case of déjà vu for the Scarlets with this time Patchell making the break in midfield before passing to Gareth Davies who crossed for his brace of tries. Patchell finally found his kicking boots to add the extras to square the game – 12 points all.
The Ospreys re-gained their lead through another Biggar penalty to put them ahead once more by 15 points to 12, but the Scarlets were in the perfect position to get more points on the board.
With the pressure on the Ospreys defence mounting, Wyn Jones crossed for a try that was initially awarded by John Lacey, however, the replay showed that Jones had lost the ball before crossing the line.
The subsequent penalty saw Samson Lee power over from close range for his first try in Scarlets colours….and it couldn’t have come at a better time! Rhys Patchell added the extras to put the Scarlets in the lead for the first time – 15 points to 19. Importantly, this four-point gap leaves the Ospreys needing a try to go into the lead once more.
Biggar added his sixth penalty to bring the Ospreys back within a point – 18 points to 19, however the Scarlets were soon back on the attack even though it seemed that the Ospreys were content to look for penalties rather than play rugby.
Replacement Rhys Jones missed his opportunity to give the Scarlets some breathing space as the game entered its final 5 minutes but he was also off the mark and the Scarlets faced an anxious end to the game as they attempted to protect their one-point lead.
With just over a minute left on the clock the Scarlets attempted to end the game in style as they kicked for the corner in an attempt to secure not only the victory, but the try bonus point. However, despite testing the Ospreys defence, Johnny McNicholl decided that once the clock had turned red, it was time to end the game.
Glimpses of the Scarlets we all know and love in the second half were sufficient to secure a single-point victory – 18 points to 19.
The Pro14 takes a break for a couple of weeks now as the Scarlets begin their Champions’ Cup campaign with an away trip to Toulon for Sunday’s game.
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