The Ospreys move up into second place after a 12th consecutive win over Welsh opposition in the PRO12.
Reduced to 14 men for the closing minutes, the Ospreys fought off a late Scarlets onslaught to complete a Domino’s Derby double over their West Walian rivals as they recorded a 17-12 victory at the Liberty Stadium in front of the highest crowd of the season.
Ashley Beck and Aisea Natoga crossed for tries in the first-half before Rhys Priestland’s boot brought the visitors back into the match.
Fijian Natoga was then sin-binned late on as the Scarlets piled on the pressure in search of the victory but the Ospreys held off to claim back to back wins over their rivals from Llanelli.
On the day that Duncan Jones made his 200th Ospreys appearance, there was a late back-row reshuffle after Justin Tipuric withdrew to be with his partner who had gone into labour earlier in the day. Tyler Ardron came into the back row, with Tom Isaacs taking the free spot on the bench.
The early exchanges saw both teams testing each other’s defences out, keeping it tight and kicking the ball deep in the blustery conditions. Rhys Priestland had the chance to open the scoring from the 10-metre line as the Ospreys held on at the breakdown but the Scarlets outside-half could not slot the difficult penalty.
It was the Ospreys who provided the first threatening attack as a loose pass from the Scarlets was stabbed through by Aisea Natoga. Ashley Beck was the first to the ball as he hacked it on but he couldn’t get to the ball before it went dead.
Ospreys continued to look for the opening score bringing in their strong ball carriers but were met with physicality as displayed by Emyr Phillips putting in a ball-spilling tackle on his opposite number, Richard Hibbard.
It was the Scarlets turn to attack as Priestland gave them an attacking lineout on the Ospreys five-metre line. The visitors looked to use their driving maul but the Ospreys thwarted their efforts.
The hosts took the lead at the midway point in the first half with a well worked try from Ashley Beck. A trademark Rhys Webb snipe caught the Scarlets napping down the blindside before he drew the last defender and popped it to Sam Davies. The fullback didn’t have the gas to finish so he passed inside to Sam Lewis who was chopped down short. It was Beck who finally crossed the whitewash as he dived over from close range. Biggar slotted the easy conversion.
Webb and Beck were both looking lively as they led the Ospreys in the search for a second score, a resolute Scarlets defence holding firm after the opening try.
Having seen very little of the ball and had little opportunity to show their attacking threat, the visitors then opted to run from deep and Scott Williams broke through the Ospreys line. He had support from Rhodri Williams who was dragged down brilliantly by Jeff Hassler close to the line.
With both teams keeping their discipline, three-point opportunities were a rarity. Joe Bearman took a man without the ball at a lineout in his own twenty-two giving Priestland only his second chance at goal just before half time. The outside-half didn’t disappoint as he opened the Scarlets account.
With time just about up in the first half, a Dan Biggar managed to squeeze a penalty into touch right on the five metre line, giving his team a very promising position. The Ospreys pack looked to drive their way over for the try but they were just stopped short. After a few carries from the forwards, the ball was whipped wide to Davies who floated a sublime pass to Natoga, putting the Fijian winger over in the corner on the stroke of half-time. It was Natoga's first try for the region since signing in the summer. Biggar added the extras.
HALF TIME: Ospreys 14 Scarlets 3
Priestland had a chance to double his team’s points early in the second half as Ben John failed to roll away at the breakdown. From just behind the 10-metre line, the kick had the legs but it didn’t have the accuracy as the Ospreys were let off the hook.
Soon after, Biggar had a chance at his first penalty kick at goal as the Scarlets killed the ball at the breakdown. The Wales outside-half extended his team’s lead to two converted tries with the three points.
Scarlets looked to hit back immediately as Jake Ball skipped through the ruck before being brought down by Webb. Ben John failed to roll away at the ruck giving Priestland a chance to cancel out Biggar’s penalty moments before and he duly delivered.
It was the visitors who had their tails up and this showed in the next scrum as the Scarlets pack overpowered the Ospreys, earning their team a penalty. Priestland stepped up again from outside the twenty-two and reduced their opponents lead to 8 points.
A spilled ball from Biggar provided Scarlets with the ball just outside the twenty-two as they looked to find a way back into the match. The Ospreys defence held strong with big tackles from the likes of Hassler and Hibbard pushing the visitors back to the half-way line before they kicked it away loosely.
A loose kick from Biggar was fielded by former Osprey Gareth Owen who fed the ball to Priestland. The outside half spotted a gap in the defence and put Frazier Climo in space down the blindside but the winger was bundled into touch.
Following a Scarlets scrum, their backs looked to attack down the blindside but the ball spilled loose from Natoga’s hand as he went in for the tackle. Nigel Owens deemed the winger had deliberately knocked the ball down illegally and he was sent to the bin.
The Scarlets went for the jugular with a kick to the corner. As they neared closer to the line, numbers appeared out wide for the visitors. The ball was sent wide and got to the hands of Kristian Phillips but the winger was met by the Canadian, Hassler who pushed him out of bounds.
Scarlets started to throw the ball around with confidence as Priestland made a break into the Ospreys twenty-two. The Ospreys met their strong attack with solid tackles, forcing them to lose the ball. Adam Jones was the unlikely character who hacked the ball on, joined in his chase with Ashley Beck. The centre had the line at his mercy and tried to kick the loose ball on but failed to do so as it spun off the side of his boot.
Following that quick spell of manic rugby, Nigel Owens brought the play back to the Ospreys twenty-two after consulting the TMO for an off the ball tackle by Scott Baldwin. Priestland slotted the penalty bringing the score to within five points with just six minutes remaining.
It was the Scarlets who piled on all the pressure as they looked for the win but they couldn’t find a way through solid Ospreys defence. A counter ruck from the home team earned them a turnover and a Sam Davies clearance kick relieved the pressure.
The visitors continued to hunt for the victory but again the story was all about the Ospreys’ unbreachable defence as they held on for the win to make it two and a half games without conceding a try, and, three consecutive games against their closest rivals without them scoring a single try.