The Ospreys were forced to settle for a draw in the south-west Wales derby at the Liberty Stadium, but it was enough for them to reclaim first place in the RaboDirect PRO12 table from Leinster after their own derby win over Munster last night.
It was all about the kickers on the night as Dan Biggar and Stephen Jones shared 18 points between them, Biggar’s three penalties seeing him take over from James Hook as the region’s all-time top scorer less than a month after his 22nd birthday.
The draw extended the Ospreys unbeaten run against their local rivals to seven games, stretching back to December 2007.
An early penalty for offside at the ruck allowed Biggar the chance to settle any big-match nerves, but his effort from just inside the Scarlets half had the distance but not the direction.
As you would have expected, the opening minutes were played out at a hundred per cent, with the biggest Liberty Stadium crowd making themselves heard, neither side really able to take control.
The Scarlets were enjoying the benefit of the decisions at the scrum, and a second penalty at the setpiece allowed the visitors an opportunity to get the first points of the night 11 minutes in, only for Stephen Jones to pull what looked a straightforward attempt right across the face of the posts and wide.
Despite that setback, it was the Scarlets who then enjoyed the first real spell of possession, but despite going through numerous phases across the 22, they were unable to penetrate robust Ospreys defence, eventually conceding a penalty for holding on as the hosts tried to steal ball at the breakdown.
The scrum was proving an area of contention, having to be reset on numerous occasions, referee Mathieu Raynal from France eventually calling the front rows and captains together for a stern word.
Tempers become frayed early in the second quarter when Stephen Jones was guilty of a spear tackle on Tommy Bowe, resulting in the Wales fly-half spending 10 minutes in the bin and Biggar putting the Ospreys ahead from the 22m line.
The numbers on the field were levelled up when Tipuric was pinged at the ruck as he looked to steal Scarlets ball with the visitors close to the Ospreys line earning him a spell alongside Jones, but the hosts escaped further punishment when Dan Evans was off target with his kick.
A quickly taken penalty on the Scarlets 22 saw Kahn Fotuali’i go on a jinking run before feeding Ian Evans who skipped past the first tackle before offloading to Andrew Bishop who dived over the line, only for play to be brought back as Evans had inadvertently stepped in touch.
The Ospreys kept the pressure on, Alun Wyn Jones stealing Matthew Rees’ throw on his line and forcing his way over the line, only to be held up by a number of Scarlets players. The decision was scrum to the Ospreys, and with the Scarlets penalised, the two packs reset. At the next attempt the Fotuali’i moved the ball away, feeding Bishop who tried to barge his way through, but was penalised for holding onto the ball in the tackle, allowing the Scarlets to clear their lines.
With the clock showing time, Biggar’s attempted drop goal was charged down by Rees, bringing a tight first half to a conclusion.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 3 SCARLETS 0
The Ospreys were back up to 15 for the restart, but the scores were level little more than a minute in, Stephen Jones successful with his kick after namesake Duncan was pinged at the scrum.
It was all square just a matter of minutes later, Biggar’s up and under was chased by Bowe, forcing a knock on, and when the Scarlets were penalised at the scrum, the young fly-half stepped up to put his side back in front.
Another Biggar up and under caused confusion in the Scarlets ranks, resulting in an Ospreys penalty for offside, and again Biggar was on target, the three points taking him past James Hook at the top of the all-time Ospreys points scoring charts with 797.
Jones then had a chance to reduce the deficit after an offside decision but again he was well off target.
The Scarlets again put together a period of concerted possession, and a penalty for not rolling away against Huw Bennett allowed Jones another chance to go for goal, but the cheers of the home fans as soon as it left his boot told everybody that it was another miss.
Some robust Ospreys defence brought the crowd to their feet, turnover ball allowing the fresh legs of Shane Williams to run at the Scarlets as the hosts looked to get some more distance between themselves and their visitors.
Another penalty against the Ospreys, this time for offside, led to a team warning being issued to new captain Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones having left the action. This time, Stephen Jones was able to punish the Ospreys, making no mistake from a central position to take the score to 9-6 just short of the hour mark.
Having weathered the storm the Ospreys came back at the Scarlets, Biggar and Bowe combining well in midfield, but it was becoming more and more frantic by the minute.
Aggressive defence on halfway forced turnover ball in the Ospreys favour, the counter attack eventually resulting in a penalty close to the touchline, but Biggar couldn’t take advantage, his kick missing the target.
There was nothing in it as the clock counted down, the Scarlets throwing everything at the Ospreys, and the hosts looking to repel wave after wave of red jerseys. The pressure finally told though, a George North charge drawing an offside decision, allowing Stephen Jones to level it with just three minutes remaining, the draw ensuring that the South Wales Evening Post Challenge Cup remains in the Liberty Stadium trophy cabinet.