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Scarlets Put Dent In Ospreys' Ambitions

By - | 28/12/2007

The Scarlets ended a six-match losing run as they put a dent in the Ospreys"€™ bid for back-to-back Magners League titles during the big West Wales derby at Stradey Park.

Scarlets put dent in Ospreys' ambitions

The Scarlets ended a six-match losing run as they put a dent in the Ospreys' bid for back-to-back Magners League titles during the big West Wales derby at Stradey Park.

Ospreys coach Lyn Jones pointed out beforehand how important the Christmas period would be for their chances with three matches.

He will know today they have it all to do, trailing leaders Leinster by 13 points, Blues by 12, Munster, who beat Connacht 17-0 last night, by 10 and Scarlets by nine.

The Scarlets had seen their Heineken Cup hopes go up in smoke this month with two defeats against Munster, but are right in the hunt for the Celtic crown.

Tries from Gavin Thomas and super-sub Nathan Brew, backed up by two conversions and a penalty from Stephen Jones, were enough to see them home.

James Hook replied with four penalties for the Ospreys, who have won just twice in the league this season, and they will be kicking themselves after failing to take advantage of a glut of possession.

At least three try-scoring chances went begging through a combination of poor passing or taking the wrong option.

New Wales coach Warren Gatland will, if he watches it at home in New Zealand, will have enjoyed this more than the clash between the Blues and the Dragons the previous day, but he knows that work is to be done in certain areas - slow cleaning out of the ball at rucks, some of the handling skills and lack of penetration in Welsh rugby.

Nevertheless, Gatland should have been encouraged by the return of Ryan Jones to professional action following a long lay-off.

The Wales star led the Ospreys for the first time since being appointed their captain at the start of the season.

The British Lions No 8 played 63 minutes for semi-professional Swansea in their 19-19 draw with Llanelli in the Welsh Premiership last Saturday, on his return after eight months out recovering from a shoulder operation.

Ospreys were without eight of their first-choice XV: Shane Williams, Gavin Henson, Sonny Parker, Justin Marshall, Huw Bennett, Ian Evans, Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia.

But, such is the strength of their squad, Lyn Jones still managed to put out a strong side.

They had won four of their last five matches on the road, while the Scarlets had recorded just one win from their last six games.

Scarlets coach Phil Davies made five changes from the starting side that lost to Munster in the Heineken Cup last time out.

Prop Ben Broster and back row James Bater were both left out, resulting in recalls for Scotsman Bruce Douglas and Wales international back rower Gavin Thomas.

Centre Gavin Evans, Wales hooker Matthew Rees and Scotland lock Scott MacLeod came in with Jon Davies, James Hayter and Adam Eustace being demoted to the replacements' bench.

There was a sensational start with Mike Phillips being sin-binned after 90 seconds for impeding Mark Jones.

The Scarlets winger had kicked ahead after spotting marker Aled Brew out of position and leaving him for dead on the outside.

Ospreys scrum-half Phillips came across and appeared to make a slight trip on Jones, who milked it for all it was worth.

Referee Nigel Owens blew up and wasted no time in showing the Wales wannabe No 9 the yellow card.

Stephen Jones' penalty bounced back off the nearside upright and there was mayhem as players from both sides competed for the loose ball.

It culminated in the Scarlets being awarded a scrum and winger Dafydd James going off for repairs to a head wound.

But the hosts failed to make the most of their extra man, despite a lively burst from the British Lions and Wales international's temporary replacement Nathan Brew.

With Phillips off the field, Ospreys were defending without a scrum-half, which allowed a sharp-looking Dwayne Peel to snipe around the fringes.

A rampaging burst from promising young flanker Ben Lewis took the Ospreys to just outside the Scarlets 22.

It led to home captain Simon Easterby diving in on Adam Jones to give away a penalty. Dissent conceded another 10m, making Hook's shot at goal easier. He chipped it over and they were 3-0 up with a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock.

But the Scarlets quickly responded. Ospreys' Wales lock Ian Gough was penalised for a high tackle on opposition full-back Morgan Stoddart.

Stephen Jones fired the ball into the corner, they won the line-out and set it up in midfield for Thomas to attack the blindside with an arcing run for the game's opening try.

Jones converted the 19th-minute touchdown and the Scarlets were 7-3 up, much to the delight of their supporters in a sell-out crowd of 10,739.

They kept up the onslaught, but suffered casualties with centre Gavin Evans and No 8 Alix Popham both leaving the fray looking the worse for wear.

Brew replaced Evans with Dafydd Jones taking over from Popham in the back row.

The regrouping signalled a fightback from the Ospreys with Hook bringing them to within a point after home lock Vernon Cooper was penalised for not rolling away after the tackle.

Cooper was guilty of the same offence a second time, just before half-time, as he attempted to spike a dangerous Ospreys attack and was promptly binned.

Hook punished him and to put the Ospreys in front for a second time, 9-7. They could have increased it after a line-out throw from Scarlets hooker Rees went over the top to opponent Lewis.

The Wales Under-20 cap sprinted 50 metres, but couldn't find Aled Brew as Mark Jones tackled him. If he had, it would have been try time.

A terrific flick-pass from Byrne gave Brew a chink of light, but the Scarlets cover snuffed out the danger.

The Ospreys proceeded to press the self-destruct penalty. Lock Ian Gough gave away a foolish penalty when he blatantly entered the side of the ruck, Jones kicking it for the Scarlets to regain the lead in the 47th minute.

Less than two minutes later the visitors coughed up possession following a scrum and super-sub Nathan Brew benefited from the suspect defending of Byrne and Mark Taylor to score. Jones converted and it was 17-9 in favour of the Scarlets.

A charge from Ryan Jones won the Ospreys a penalty on the Scarlets 22, Hook landing it to reduce the arrears to five points.

Both sides went off the boil around the hour mark, bringing a lull to a match which had plenty of intent but lacked penetration with some of the passing.

New Zealand scrum-half great Marshall took over from Phillips and almost sparked a try for the Ospreys with his first touch.

He made a delightful break after offloading to Alun Wyn Jones, but Scarlets wingers James and Mark Jones combined to brilliantly catch him in a pincer movement a metre short of their try-line.

Ospreys, with Marshall bringing a new direction, continued to threaten, but centre Andrew Bishop knocked on with a touchdown beckoning.

Any chance the Ospreys had of snatching victory disappeared as their line-out malfunctioned with Cooper repeatedly picking off replacement Bennett's throws.

Back-chat to a touch judge, by Marshall, didn't help either as their chances of repeating last season's league title took a severe jolt.

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