Ospreys v Scarlets: Welcome to the Wild West Derby by Paul Williams

The heyday of the ‘wild west’ may have come to an end in the late 1890’s. But since 2003, the wild west has been brought back to life by the Ospreys and Scarlets. The weapons may be different; guns replaced by bullet passes, and horses replaced by caterpillars. But no fixture kicks up more dust in the Welsh regional calendar than Ospreys v Scarlets.

So, let’s see who, and what, is on the ‘WANTED’ list.


WANTED: Stopping power

As much as we all love attacking rugby, very few teams win anything without the stopping power of a Winchester rifle circa 1868. Currently, the Ospreys have a big advantage in that department. The Ospreys are seventh overall in the league for defence, with the Scarlets at tenth. But the telling stat is that the Scarlets are second in the league for most tackles missed with 108 - the Ospreys have missed just 76. It is no surprise that the Ospreys have such a good defensive record. Anyone from Justin Tipuric, Jac Morgan and Harri Deaves could drop a small herd of plains buffalo, without a rope. Then you add in enforcers like Rhys Davies and Morgan Morris, who both feature in the URC’s top ten tacklers stats, and you’ve got a level of defence akin to Fort Laramie.


WANTED: Straight shooters from the kicking tee

The old wild west was synonymous with young men firing shots at various targets. And the wild west derby is no different. Except they’re using their feet, not their fingers. In Jack Walsh and Ioan Lloyd, both teams have very capable kickers. Walsh has a respectable 82% completion so far this season and Lloyd a 92% completion. In a derby game, goal kicking becomes more important than ever. Teams get ‘tight’ due to the increased pressure of losing to your nearest and dearest. And the last thing anyone wants is their relatives from Llanelli turning up on Christmas day, sinking a bottle of red, and talking you through the Scarlets’ latest derby victory. As the old adage goes (at least according to Paul Williams), line breaks for show, goal kicks for dough.


WANTED: Setpiece completions over 90%

With the modern game dominated by driving lineouts in the 22, lineout completions are rugby’s golden nuggets. A lineout completion of over 85% is desirable. After five games in the URC this season, the Ospreys have a lineout completion of 84% and the Scarlets have a completion of 82%. But the success of lineout mauls isn’t solely based on the lineout itself. You have to be able to get into the 22 in the first place. The Oregon Trail to the opposition’s 22m area is scrum penalties, particularly in the middle of the field – which allows for a wider kicking angle into the corner. This is where the Ospreys are the West’s gunslingers with a 97% scrum completion, compared to the Scarlets 88%. The Ospreys have also generated twice as many attacking scrum penalties over the first five games. If the Ospreys win, set piece completion may well be the smoking gun.


WANTED: Outlaws

Rugby is of course a team game, and sticking to the plan is part of the game. But as with the old wild west, in the wild west derby we all love an outlaw. We crave a player who breaks with protocol on occasion and goes full Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In this fixture there are plenty of players who can fulfill this role. Max Nagy is one. He’s had a fantastic start to the season having made more carries than a mule in 1849 San Fransico. He’s third in the league for total metres carried and is averaging three defenders beaten over the first five games. Then there’s Morgan Morris, a player who could blast a hole in a gold mine using his shoulder, not dynamite. His carrying is more robust than an 1850’s wagon train and his selection for the Welsh squad surely can’t be far away. And of course, when talking about a potential outlaw who breaks the mould, who can forget Keiran Williams. A more ‘Billy the Kid’ type player you are not likely to see. Billy the Kid and Keiran Williams both measure 5ft 10 inches tall and wreak equal havoc – although in very different ways. Billy robbed banks, Kieran steals meters- and plenty of them.


WANTED: An ability to stay within the laws

The wild west had no laws, rugby has plenty. And the success of the wild west derby will largely be decided by how many times the sheriff gets their badge out – that’s the referee, not Ken Owens. After five games, the Ospreys are sixth in the table for discipline, the Scarlets are 13th. That’s a big difference and one that could decide the fixture. Penalties are gold dust in the modern game, and they deliver easy territorial gains, and shots at goal. But perhaps most importantly, the accumulation of penalties leads to yellow cards, especially in the 22. And that usually results in simple maul tries or space on the wing. Staying out of the reach of the law/ laws will be key.

I can't wait for kick off.


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