There was late drama at Parc y Scarlets as the hosts scored a late, late try to break Ospreys hearts and steal derby victory despite playing half a game with 14 men.
Conditions meant it was a scrappy affair as cold winds and heavy rain made any kind of ball handling difficult, but the Ospreys looked to have done enough with a physical forward effort only to be denied at the death.
The Scarlets enjoyed the best of the opening quarter and led 5-0 through a Steff Evans try, despite four missed kicks from Leigh Halfpenny, before the Ospreys began to take the upper hand up front.
Shortly before the break, try scorer Evans was shown a red card after taking out Ben John in the air, allowing Sam Davies to get the Ospreys on the board. The Ospreys pack enjoyed the upper hand for large period in the second half, two more Davies penalties putting them 9-5 up with 20 minutes to play without every really threatening to score a try themselves.
However, after some incredible defensive work from the Ospreys in the closing stages, there was one final twist as Josh Macleod collected a Scott Williams cross kick to score in the corner with 83 minutes showing on the clock.
Ahead of kick-off there was a reshuffle for the Ospreys as Kieron Fonotia withdrew for personal reasons, replaced by Ashley Beck, and a switch that saw Rhys Webb and Tom Habberfield swap shirts which meant the Lions scrum half started. With Beck moving up, Hanno Dirksen took his place on the bench.
In appalling conditions the Scarlets had two early opportunities to open the scoring, but Halfpenny couldn’t find the target.
First up on just three minutes the Ospreys were penalised at their own put-in but Halfpenny could only push it across the post and wide from 23m out. Then, just three minutes later, an offside allowed him to go from 20m further out but the result was the same.
There was then a setback when, with 10 minutes on the clock, we witnessed the unfamiliar sight of Dan Evans limping out of the action, replaced by name sake Biggar who slotted in at full back.
Three minutes later Halfpenny lined up the sticks again following an offside on the Ospreys 10m line but, although it was a central position, the scoreboard remained blank.
The Scarlets had dominated the territory and possession stats in the first quarter without troubling the scorers and they built up some momentum close to the Ospreys line. The visitors thought they’d cleared the danger when Olly Cracknell won turnover ball under the posts. However, as they looked to clear, Ashley Beck couldn’t hold Webb’s pass, knocking on behind the line.
That allowed the home team to keep the pressure on with a five-metre scrum and although the setpiece was messy, it squirmed out to Gareth Davies who was able to get the ball out to Steff Evans who showed great feet to elude Ben John and score.
Although they had the lead, Halfpenny missed his fourth kick of the night with just 17 minutes played.
A lovely 40m break from Beck then put the Ospreys in a good position only for Sam Davies to try a grubber that came straight back off Gareth Davies. It was hacked upfield and a second Scarlets try looked certain as Johnny McNicholl won the race, going to ground 5m to scoop the ball up under pressure from Davies, only to see Hadleigh Parkes drop McNicholl’s offload forward.
All too often handling errors were preventing the Ospreys from gaining any real momentum but slowly they were growing into the game and what looked a key moment came in the 37th minute when Scarlets try scorer Evans was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle, taking out John in the air after the Ospreys man had taken the high ball cleanly.
John left the field for a HIA and the Ospreys were immediately back within two points as Sam Davies made no mistake from the resultant penalty, slotting it over from the touchline just before the half-time whistle.
HALF-TIME: SCARLETS 5 OSPREYS 3
John failed to return for the second half, Dirksen now a permanent replacement.
With the extra man the Ospreys were on top following the restart and Biggar almost carved an opening for Sam Davies, play called back because of the slightest knock forward by Owen Watkin.
However, the resulting scrum in the Scarlets 22 saw Werner Kruger penalised and Davies was able to nudge it over to give his team a one-point lead with half an hour to play.
A physical contest was being played out mainly in the middle third with two defences looking pretty solid in the rain but some great work at the breakdown from Justin Tipuric saw Halfpenny penalised and Sam Davies made no mistake, shrugging off the difficult conditions to split the posts from 40m out.
As the clock ticked down the Ospreys physicality and well drilled defence meant that the four points were seemingly heading back east across the Loughor Bridge as the Scarlets tried but failed to find a way through the black wall.
However, the hosts threw everything at it in the final minutes and a huge scrum from the hosts to win possession off an Ospreys put in close to their own line in the final minute proved pivotal
The Scarlets went through phase after phase trying to get through, referee Ian Davies ignoring Ospreys claims of a Scarlet knock-on at the base of a ruck, before Liberty Stadium bound centre Williams spotted McLeod on his own on the left flank and delivered the perfect cross kick which the back rower collected to score the winning try in the corner.
The final kick of the game was irrelevant in the bigger picture but saw Halfpenny successful from the touchline to finally break his duck on the night.