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Allen Clarke’s Ospreys will carry Wales’ hopes in the European Champions Cup next season after overpowering rivals Scarlets.
Two Welsh regions were pitted against each other in the Guinness PRO14 Champions Cup play-off, with the winners sealing their fate as their country’s sole representatives in Europe’s top-tier competition next term.
And it was the Liberty Stadium faithful who were able to toast qualification after tries from George North, Olly Cracknell and Hanno Dirksen saw the Ospreys emerge from the last-chance saloon smelling of roses – meanwhile, the Scarlets will ply their trade in the Challenge Cup in 2019-2020.
The hosts set their stall out from the off, Owen Watkin’s searing run from deep matched by teammate Keelan Giles. However, the Ospreys winger was denied by a sublime last-ditch covering tackle from Leigh Halfpenny.
But home side would get their noses in front inside the opening 10 minutes.
After another foray down the left wing proved fruitless, the Ospreys quickly shifted the direction of their attack to the opposite flank and Watkin fed North for a simple score, Sam Davies converting.
Scarlets full-back Halfpenny got his team on the scoreboard with a penalty but it wasn’t long before Ospreys went over again.
Like a knife through butter, Dan Evans sliced through the Scarlets ranks before offloading to Cracknell to provide the coup de grace, the flanker rampaging forward and finishing underneath the posts, Sam Davies then adding the extras to make it 14-3.
But with six minutes of the first half remaining, the visitors hit back, taking full advantage of their man advantage after Dirksen was yellow-carded for clumsily challenging an airborne Johnny McNicholl.
In a flash, Scarlets streamed forward and McNicholl fed Jonathan Davies for his team’s first try of the game, Halfpenny converting to shave the deficit to four points as the pendulum swung back in the direction of the men in red.
In the early throes if the second period, the tension was palpable, with both teams seemingly mindful of the magnitude of what was at stake.
The Ospreys missed a penalty and a drop goal attempt as they attempted to steal a further match on a relentless Scarlets, who consistently gave as good as they got.
The war of attrition continued right until nine minutes from time, when the Ospreys finally landed a killer blow.
Having turned the screw and worked through the phases, Aled Davies swept the ball into the hands of Luke Price from the breakdown and he in turn fed Dirksen, who gleefully slammed the ball into the ground, Price converting as the hosts secured safe passage into the Champions Cup.
The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets
17 May 2019