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McNicholl at the double to send Scarlets to derby-day victory

A JOHNNY McNicholl try three minutes from time saw the Scarlets claim a spirited bonus-point derby victory over the Ospreys at Parc y Scarlets.

In their first match for 10 weeks, the home side dug deep in the second half to secure a deserved win to extend their unbeaten home run over their arch rivals to seven years.

The game proved a see-sawing affair with both sides taking advantage of mistakes to claim scores.

The big pity was there were no fans inside the ground to witness the thrilling clash, with government Covid-19 restriction not allowing spectators to attend.

It was the Scarlets who were up and running after nine minutes, scrum-half Gareth Davies benefiting from a lovely off-load from half-back partner Dan Jones, who added the extras.

Flanker Josh Macleod, in his comeback match, was forced to leave the field on 13 minutes with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Tomas Lezana, making his home debut.

However, as the half wore on, it was the Ospreys who came more into the contest and after Dan Evans ws denied by a superb cover tackle from Tom Price, the experienced Rhys Webb pounced from short range with fly-half Josh Thomas levelling the scores.

Wing Luke Morgan showed his pace to claim a long-range opportunist score, gathering and touching down from a speculative kick down field and the visitors led 12-7 at the break.

But with second row Sam Lousi and hooker Ryan Elais to the fore and skipper Scott Williams pulling the strings behind the scrum, Scarlets started the second half with plenty of energy and adventure.

That was rewarded when Steff Evans scored wide out 12 minutes into the second half.

Back came the Ospreys, though, and Webb added a second four minutes later. Thomas’s conversion made it 19-12, but it was the home side who dominated the final quarter, testament to the conditioning work the squad have done over the last couple of months.

On 65 minutes, Replacement Kieran Hardy intercepted an Ospreys attack and slick hands sent McNicholl racing clear for his first.

Then, with the clock ticking down to full time, a powerful carry from Aaron Shingler caught the Ospreys defence narrow and McNicholl had a free run to the line for the bonus-point score.

Rhys Patchell, another back in competitive action after a lengthy lay-off, pushed the conversion wide, but it mattered little as the Scarlets saw out the final minutes for a morale-lifting win.