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Monday Morning Quarterback View

he Ospreys welcomed Welsh Shield leaders and local rivals, the Scarlets to the stadium for the eagerly-awaited West Wales derby on a mild Saturday early evening. The match was Adam Beard’s 100th Osprey cap and Alun Wyn Jones’ 251st appearance.

The Scarlets lost their departing international full back Liam Williams in the warm-up, but they applied early pressure with a Costelow break, stopped only by Keelan Giles with a superb try-saving tackle. The Scarlets broke again from the first scrum, but a further fine Giles tackle saved another certain try. In the same passage of play, Scarlets won a penalty and opened the scoring with a penalty goal, but the Ospreys hit back straight with a try by HIA replacement Nicky Smith after an initial break from Alex Cuthbert.

Both teams hammered away at each other in typical derby fashion and for a while, defence was on top for both teams.

However, the Scarlets would go on and score two more tries as they cut the Ospreys open seemingly at will. Scrumhalf Gareth Davies finished off a slick handling move that needed TMO confirmation before winger Ryan Conbeer scored another try after a missed tackle from Mat Protheroe. The Ospreys stayed in the game, but only just, with their second try after fine work from Protheroe and Giles before Morgan Morris finished things off under the posts.

With Costelow pulling the strings at ten and the sniping at 9 from Davies, the Scarlets scored again when Conbeer scored his second and the Scarlets’ third try by going over in the corner after the Ospreys conceded penalty after penalty.

The Ospreys went for deep restarts rather than contestable ones. Most directly to, the dangerous ball-carrying Kalamafoni, who was largely kept quiet, due to some fine chop tackles notably by Jac Morgan and Dewi Lake amongst others.

Despite some of our best attacking moves and two well taken tries, too many unforced errors saw us surrender territory to a dangerous attacking side and at halftime the Ospreys trailed 14-24. Protheroe went off for a HIA that he would ultimately fail and that saw the much-anticipated return after a year out of action of George North to the centre with Collins moving to full back.

Toby Booth in his post-match conference said the Ospreys needed to make a number of halftime adjustments and tweaks to their game plan. Whatever they were they should be replicated every week from here on in as the Ospreys tore into their opponents straight from the whistle. The Ospreys’ set-piece really came to the fore as the scrum won several penalties that were kicked to touch and led to driving mauls from which they scored almost at will, scoring more points in 40 minutes than they had managed in any of their previous 80-minute games this season

The first of the second half tries came after a quickly taken Ospreys lineout and an Anscombe break. The Ospreys hammered away at the Scarlets’ line before a wide pass from Anscombe put Giles away in the corner. He also made the conversion easier by dotting down closer to the posts. Anscombe converted and it was game on, 21-24.

The next try came from a turnover by Thomas Francis and a very clever kick from Webb. Giles chased and recovered the ball but as he tried to offload to the supporting Collins, the last Scarlets defender, Cory Baldwin, deliberately knocked the ball on and stopped the move. With the crowd baying for a penalty try, the referee went to the TMO, but a wider angle showed a covering defender; so the referee showed a yellow card to Baldwin but did not award a penalty try, much to the crowd’s annoyance. The resulting penalty was kicked to touch, and the forwards powered to the line where Lake drove over for the for the fourth and crucial BP try, ably supported by AWJ, Beard and Webb. The Ospreys now led 26-24 and had an extra man for the next ten minutes.

With the crowd in full voice, the Ospreys really upped the pace and tempo of the game. A silly penalty from Scarlets’ centre Jonny Williams saw the Ospreys kick to the corner and the resulting lineout driving maul saw Lake break away and power over from ten metres converted by Anscombe. The Ospreys were now in the ascendancy, and their defence had gone up several notches. A half break from the Scarlets saw them knock on and fortunately for the Ospreys, an accidental offside was missed by the officials. Play continued and the ball found its way to Giles who raced away before passing inside to the supporting Collins and he gleefully dived over the try line for the Ospreys’ sixth try of the match. Ospreys now led 40-24 on the hour mark and had scored three tries in the yellow card period.

Both teams went to their respective benches, but it was the Ospreys replacements who had the better impact. A strong scrum almost realised another penalty for the Ospreys, but the Scarlets were able to clear. The impressive Giles forced a knock on and another scrum that did result in a penalty that was kicked to touch. Another strike move saw Webb break the line before offloading to Watkin who beat the last defender to score the Ospreys’ seventh try, giving Anscombe a simple conversion and a 47-24 advantage.

The Scarlets did respond with a fine individual break and try from Hardy that allowed them a try BP and maybe they thought that a comeback was on the cards when they added another try as Conbeer scored his hat trick try to close the gap to 11 points with 5 minutes remaining.

The comeback was, however, put to bed with the final try of the game that went to the Ospreys. With the majority of the crowd rejoicing after a knock on from the restart, the Ospreys called for a scrum. After a few phases, a high tackle from a Scarlets defender resulted in another penalty that Myler kicked to touch and from the driving maul, Sam Parry finished things off. Anscombe converted and the final score was an incredible 54-36.

Every single Ospreys player rose to the occasion but there were several notable performances including amongst others official Player of the Game Lake, Morris, and Morgan. The entire pack as a unit dominated the Scarlets pack at the set-piece as had been widely expected. The great surprise was the performance of the backs. A combination of quick ball, Gareth Anscombe for the first time in an Ospreys shirt looking something like the pre-injury version, and Keelan Giles confirming he is now firmly back to the threat he was before his horrific injuries, ensured the big crowd was served up a treat.

With two home games to go, the Ospreys now have a fighter’s chance to top the Welsh Shield. They currently trail the Scarlets by five points but have a vital home game in hand and the tie break of more wins if they finish equal on points. This display has to be repeated next week in the derby against the Dragons. Five points looks a non-negotiable requirement next Sunday which would put us ahead of the Scarlets with the final weekend to come a fortnight later. It then comes down to our match with the Bulls and theirs with the Stormers. Unfortunately, we play first so the Scarlets will know exactly what they need to do to get ahead of us in the table. If we can get five match points, there is nothing they can do to overtake us but four tries against the Bulls will be a huge ask. Jake White coached sides rarely give much away, and their powerful pack will make it very difficult to get anything from the driving maul.

Finally it would be remiss not to praise the off-field effort by the Ospreys staff. Hospitality looked sold out, great pre match entertainment was offered and the provision of free flags for all was a really innovative and excellent idea that helped add to the sense of occasion. Their effort deserved a big performance from the on-field team, and we certainly got that.

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