Llanelli Star - - EUROPEAN PLAY-OFF -

THE Scar­lets missed out on a place in next sea­son’s Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup after they were de­feated by the Ospreys in a hard-fought Guin­ness PRO14 play-off at the Lib­erty Sta­dium.

It means the Scar­lets will have to set­tle for play­ing, for the first time, in the sec­ond-tier competitio­n, the Chal­lenge Cup.

The home side’s vic­tory came through tries by Ge­orge North, Olly Crack­nell and re­place­ment wing Hanno Dirk­sen, who was also yel­low­carded in the first half.

Sam Davies kicked two con­ver­sions and Luke Price one.

The Scar­lets played their part in the one-off match, with Jonathan Davies grab­bing their only try and Leigh Half­penny kick­ing a penalty and a con­ver­sion.

The Ospreys in­cluded Wales cap­tain Alun Wyn Jones in what could be his last game for the re­gion. The 33-year-old has yet to de­cide on his fu­ture.

Hooker Scott Bald­win was play­ing his last game for the re­gion be­fore join­ing Har­lequins.

Jake Ball was back at lock for the vis­i­tors after injury, while props Phil Price and Werner Kruger were in­cluded in the front row, with Wales props Rob Evans and Sam­son Lee both in­jured.

The play-off came about with the sides finishing fourth in Con­fer­ence A and B re­spec­tively, with no Welsh team qual­i­fy­ing au­to­mat­i­cally for the 2019-20 Cham­pi­ons Cup.

The Ospreys had the bet­ter of the first half to lead 14-10 at the break but the Dirk­sen yel­low card brought Scar­lets right back into the con­test.

It was the hosts who set the tone early on when man of the match Owen Watkin set Kee­lan Giles away down the left.

The pacy wing looked likely to score but was stopped in his tracks by Half­penny.

But the home side’s at­tack­ing in­tent and an efficient line-out pro­duced the open­ing try on nine min­utes when Watkin put North over on the right. Davies con­verted.

Half­penny did get the Scar­lets on the score­board with a penalty five min­utes later.

How­ever, a loose kick by wing Ioan Ni­cholas from deep in­side his 22 al­lowed Ospreys to dou­ble their score. Dan Evans counter-at­tacked and Crack­nell was put in un­der the posts.

Davies con­verted as the Ospreys led 14-3 after 18 min­utes.

But the yel­low card for Dirk­sen for a dan­ger­ous chal­lenge in the air against McNi­choll sud­denly changed the momentum of the con­test.

A minute after the sin-bin Jonathan Davies went over after a dart down the right by McNi­choll. Half­penny con­verted to re­duce the deficit to four points.

At the start of the sec­ond half Sam Davies missed a 45-me­tre penalty and then scuffed a drop-goal at­tempt.

The turn­ing point in the sec­ond half came when re­place­ment fly-half Rhys Patchell missed touch with a penalty at­tempt.

By con­trast, Price found touch with his kick a minute later and from that po­si­tion the Ospreys scored their third try when Price put Dirk­sen over. Price con­verted to seal the re­gion’s place at Europe’s top ta­ble.

For Scar­lets coach Wayne Pi­vac, it was a dis­ap­point­ing way to sign off after five years at the helm, with the New Zealan­der mov­ing on to be­come Wales coach.

“We worked re­ally hard for 80 min­utes but were not clin­i­cal enough at key mo­ments and they were and scored three good tries,” he said.

“Some­times you are not good enough on the day and come up against a side who de­served to win.

“We should have not been in this po­si­tion and we had chances in four or five games.

“It is frus­trat­ing and you have to en­joy the highs and it’s a bit of a roller-coaster.

“As a club, we have to bounce back next sea­son and hope­fully not go through the same pain in terms of per­son­nel and clinch that Euro­pean place.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing, but look­ing across the five years we have had suc­cess.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this year not a lot has gone our way.

“I think we have the nu­cleus of a good squad and if they get a good run

next year in terms of availabili­ty of players they will be knock­ing on the door for hon­ours.

“In five years you get to know a group pretty well.

“It has been an en­joy­able time and the group have worked very hard.”

For the Ospreys, the vic­tory com­pleted a re­mark­able turnaround in for­tunes in a mat­ter of weeks.

Back in late Fe­bru­ary and early March there were se­ri­ous doubts over the fu­ture of the re­gion, with the players be­ing told it might cease to ex­ist amid talk of them hav­ing to merge or even shut down com­pletely.

At one point, a merger with the Scar­lets looked to be going ahead, only for that idea to be scrapped fol­low­ing a huge out­cry from sup­port­ers .

Mean­while, there were strug­gles on the field, too, with the team hav­ing lost six suc­ces­sive games.

It was a tur­bu­lent and trau­matic time for ev­ery­one in­volved with the re­gion.

But, some­how, they have man­aged to put that be­hind them and string to­gether five wins on the bounce to se­cure a place in the Cham­pi­ons Cup.

Coach Allen Clarke said: “I have re­spect for ev­ery player in our group.

“They have been in­cred­i­bly re­silient through­out the sea­son.

“You could see a fresh­ness and re­silience once you re­alised we were going to ex­ist as the Ospreys.

“I take my hat off to ev­ery­body, man­age­ment, sup­port­ers, players and the board who have made that stance.

“And to the WRU be­cause you have to give credit where it is due.

“They saw the wealth of sup­port be­hind the Ospreys and there has been recog­ni­tion we are a strong re­gion and we are play­ing Cham­pi­ons Cup rugby next sea­son.

“It has been drain­ing, and prob­a­bly what you see on the ex­te­rior you don’t un­der­stand what is un­der­neath.

“There have been a lot of sleep­less nights for a lot of peo­ple in­volved.”

Hadleigh Parkes is tack­led by Alun Wyn Jones.

Scar­lets cen­tre Jonathan Davies pow­ers through an at­tempted tackle by Sam Davies to score a try against the Ospreys at the Lib­erty Sta­dium.

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