Ospreys raise glass to James' singular double

Scarlets 14 Ospreys 21
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The Independent Online

Try-scoring heroes do not come in a more unlikely shape than Paul James but it was the Ospreys loosehead prop whose tries decided this derby. The purists may argue there was no better protagonist given that no player has pulled on the Ospreys jersey more than the 28-year-old front-row.

Having managed just two tries in his previous 136 appearances, James doubled his tally with a shock double in the space of 11 minutes either side of half-time. However it was the Ospreys' defence and ill-discipline of the Scarlets that proved just as influential on the result.

The Scarlets dominated territory and possession against their wealthier neighbours yet could not find a way to make either count. Not until the eighth minute of injury time, after James and the boot of Dan Biggar had put the game beyond their reach, did the Scarlets finally unlock the door through Johnathan Edwards.

Ospreys coach Sean Holley said: "It was fantastic to see Paul get his reward for great service to the club with those two tries but it was probably our defence that won us the game. We were outstanding on our own goal line. The Scarlets really pounded our line but we were disappointed to concede that late try after that effort."

The Ospreys defence has been moulded during various European exchanges and fuelled frustration within the young Scarlets ranks. However it was two moments of silly indiscipline that really hurt the home side and sparked an exchange of words between head coach Nigel Davies, team physio Brad Harrington and the fourth official on the touchline. Looking back though, the Scarlets could have few complaints.

Trailing 12-9 midway through the second half, scrum-half Martin Roberts was heard by referee Nigel Owens making some off-the-cuff jibe at Biggar as he ran up and missed a penalty. Biggar was allowed to kick again and sent the ball sailing between the posts. If it was not bad enough, moments later the Scarlets saw a kickable penalty reversed for Vernon Cooper's off-the-ball foul in a ruck.

Davies said: "I'm proud of the team's effort and the way we competed but the key thing was our discipline in key parts of the game. There was a six-point swing with those two penalties and that makes me very disappointed. We're fighting an uphill battle with our position in the League and with key players absent through injury and you just can't afford things like that."

Ospreys director of coaching, Scott Johnson, described this fixture as the last example of "tribal rugby" remaining in their fixture list and it proved an old-fashioned game for the modern era. The names may have changed but the historic rivalries between the west Wales towns of Llanelli, Swansea and Neath remain as deep rooted and it made for a wonderful encounter.

There was another throwback to the past when Stephen Jones, having missed his first penalty attempt, converted his second after six minutes to surpass Scarlets legend Phil Bennett's tally of 2,532 points for the club/region. Jones ended the game 59 points behind leading scorer Andy Hill.

Ospreys got the first break when Marty Holah's loose tap from an attacking lineout missed the intended receiver but bounced into the hands of James. The Scarlets lineout parted like the Red Sea and James put his foot on the gas like a dump truck to rumble over on 32 minutes. Jones and Rhys Priestland hit back to hand the Scarlets a 9-7 lead at half-time but two phases after Nikki Walker's chip and chase, James was waiting on the wing to grab a second on 43 minutes. Biggar missed the conversion but struck three more times as the Ospreys defence held firm.

Scarlets R Priestland; M Stoddart (E Williams, 71), S Lamont, J Davies, A Fenby; S Jones, M Roberts; P John, K Owens, D Manu, L Reed, D Day (V Cooper, 52), S Easterby (R McCusker, 58), D Lyons (capt), J Edwards.

Ospreys G Owen (L Byrne, 45); T Bowe, A Bishop, J Hook (S Parker, 39), N Walker; D Biggar, R Januarie; P James, H Bennett (R Hibbard, 52), C Mitchell (A Jones, 38), I Gough, A W Jones (J Thomas, 44), J Collins, R Jones (capt), M Holah.

Referee: N Owens (WRU).