The Scarlets finished with 12 men as the Ospreys romped to a comfortable win in the Boxing Day derby at the Liberty Stadium.
The result was never in doubt as the hosts dominated from start to finish, their advantage at the scrum giving them the early initiative as they raced into an unassailable lead.
There was an early penalty try before second half touch downs for James King and Kahn Fotuali’i, who also grabbed a drop goal, while Dan Biggar added four penalties and a conversion.
In total, five Scarlets players spent time in the sin bin, a first half yellow for George Earle before a crazy final 15 minutes that saw Tavis Knoyle and Aled Thomas also yellowed, while Rob McCusker and Gareth Owen were both red carded in the final five.
The Ospreys got off to the perfect start, Biggar slotting over a penalty inside 120 seconds. It came after the Scarlets had made a hash of collecting Biggar’s kick-off, knocking it on, which led to the Scarlets collapsing the first scrum of the evening in front of the posts.
The Scarlets responded positively to the early setback, looking to attack the Ospreys out wide, moving the ball at every opportunity, but twice they threatened the Ospreys 22 in the opening eight minutes and twice aggressive home defence saw the hosts winning turnover ball and clearing their lines.
Back came the Ospreys and after a period of pressure inside the Scarlets 22 where they home team found the door slammed in their face at every go, captain Fotuali’i opted to go for the drop goal, slotting it over from close range to double the lead on 11 minutes.
Quick lineout ball allowed the Ospreys to attack the Scarlets line again, the ball moved swiftly across the field. The visitors were able to repel the first attack so Fotuali’i opted to go back down the blindside, Richard Fussell feeding Eli Walker who tried to force his way through but was driven into touch by the cover defence.
Good work by the Ospreys saw the Scarlets being driven back over their own line from their lineout, resulting in an Ospreys scrum five. The home pack had already shown their dominance at the scrum, so it came as little surprise that the Scarlets were penalised as the two sets of forwards enagaged.
Unsurprising again was that the Ospreys opted to reset and on this occasion as they rumbled towards the line, Joe Bearman controlling well at the back, the Scarlets scrum disintegrated and referee Nigel Owens ran under the sticks to award the penalty try, Biggar’s conversion making it 13-0 with 24 minutes gone.
A couple of minutes later, Fotuali’i was pinged at the breakdown allowing Aled Thomas to slot over the first points of the night for the Scarlets.
The Scarlets were reduced to 14 just before the half hour mark when second row Earle was yellow carded for preventing Fotuali’i for taking a quick tap penalty 15m out, and fancying their chances against a seven man scrum the Ospreys spurned the opportunity to go for the three and opted to go for the scrum again.
The visitors were able to hold the scrum together, just about, so Fotuali’i spun it out to Biggar who jinked past the first tackle before feeding Ryan Jones who crossed the line but was prevented from grounding by Aled Davies.
Minutes later, Biggar added another three points but Ospreys players, coaches and fans alike would have preferred the advantage rather than the penalty decision from Owens as the Scarlets scrum buckled again, the whistle coming just a second before Ryan Jones found his way over the line to ground it.
Scarlets fly-half Thomas was off target with a penalty attempt after the Ospreys were penalised for going off their feet as they tried to secure the ball after Jonathan Davies charged down Fotuali’i’s clearance.
With the clocking showing time up for the first half, a Scarlets offside after a poor clearance from Aled Davies left a host of players in front of the kicker allowed Biggar to stretch the interval lead to 16 points.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 19 SCARLETS 3
The opening minutes after the restart were played out in the Ospreys half as the visitors looked to find a way back into the game, but after seven minutes of Scarlets pressure it was the hosts who grabbed the first score of the second half, a try through James King.
Fussell was the catalyst, running the ball back from deep, and he had support from Andrew Bishop who carried into the 22, where the Scarlets were penalised for killing the ball. Another Fotuali’i tap and go put the Ospreys on the front foot, Justin Tipuric driving him forward to within inches of the line. It was recycled quickly, and with an overlap on the right Ryan Bevington’s long miss pass allowed the second row to slide in for the score.
Biggar missed with the touchline conversion, but he added another three points five minutes later after a Scarlets offside, taking the score to 27-3.
With the game seemingly secure as the hour approached the Ospreys were looking for tries opting to go for the corner rather than taking three points. First up, Ross Jones was stopped just short as he gathered Fotuali’i’s cross kick to the corner, and then the TMO took several minutes to study the pictures as Richard Hibbard drove for the line before deciding that he hadn’t grounded, awarding a scrum five to the Ospreys.
For a second time, Owens whistle came too early, Morgan Allen picking up and going for a straightforward run-in as the Scarlets pack buckled only for play to be brought back.
The game boiled over in the 64th minute, Fotuali’i delivering a box kick to the corner that Kristian Phillips failed to deal with under pressure from Walker. Scott Baldwin collected and carried, looking to feed Walker 10m out, only for the wing to be tackled without the ball by Knoyle, earning the former Ospreys scrum-half 10 minutes in the sinbin after the officials had sorted out a ‘coming together’ of the two teams on the touchline.
The Ospreys knocked on at the resulting lineout, and although it was a Scarlets put-in, a huge shove saw the visitors retreating at a rate of knots. Morgan Allen picked up at the back, feeding Fotuali’i on the blindside, and the ever impressive Samoan managed to squeeze over in the corner, TMO Derek Bevan confirming the grounding. Biggar missed the conversion.
A great Ashley Beck break from inside his own 22 almost led to another Ospreys try, Ryan Jones just failing to gather a pass from namesake Ross that would have allowed him an unopposed 15m run in.
Knoyle was joined in the sinbin by half-back partner Aled Thomas on the 70th minute for interference at a ruck on the Scarlets line, leaving the visitors with 13 men.
The pride, determination and discipline of the Ospreys team shone through in the final minutes as a late rally saw the Scarlets pressing the line, with Knoyle back on the field. However, the hosts were able to keep them at bay to prevent even a consolation score as the Scarlets allowed their frustration to get the better of them as two of their players were sent off in the dying minutes.
First to go was McCusker, shown red for illegal use of the boot, and then Owen, on his first return to the Liberty as a Scarlet, went for a poorly timed tackle on Allen as any hope of breaching the Ospreys defence drifted away.