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Ospreys v Scarlets talking points as Gareth Anscombe gives Wales a nudge with best performance since injury nightmare

The Ospreys gave themselves a chance of being Wales’ top-placed team this season, and thus securing a Champions Cup spot, with their 56-34 thumping of arch-rivals Scarlets.

Dwayne Peel’s side are still favourites to win the Welsh Shield and thus be at Europe’s top table next season, but at the very least the Ospreys have thrown the cat among the pigeons.

We take a look at some of the main talking points from their stunning win.

Anscombe back to his best

What a welcome sight this was. Gareth Anscombe, Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam winning fly-half, pretty much in full flow again.

One thing’s for sure, the Scarlets were determined to get into Anscombe’s face. They brought some real heat down the No.10 channel in defence, but the Wales stand-off played the perfect matador role.

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He varied his game brilliantly, a perfectly-weighted chip over the top in the first half – which should have led to a try – gave the visitors something to think about and he grew in influence as the game wore on. Despite the imposing frame of Johnny Williams shooting out of the line at him, he kept his head to send Alex Cuthbert through the dog-leg, showing good patience and timing.

Two phases later and the Ospreys were crossing for the game’s first try. In the second half, when the Ospreys really cut loose, he produced a lovely arcing break, somewhat of a throwback to a time before his knee injury, in the build up to another Ospreys score.

Was it the Anscombe of old? It was something very close to it. If nothing else, it was his best performance since return from that terrible injury.

And it will give Wayne Pivac plenty of food for thought as Wales prepare to take on South Africa this summer.

Conbeer enters Wales conversation

Speaking of Wales, out of the doom and gloom of devastating defeat for the Scarlets came limited positives. One of them was Ryan Conbeer.

The tricky winger, largely unheralded east of Llanelli, has been unavailable for the selection in recent weeks, but he was back with a bang in Swansea. A scooped a hat-trick of tries to help the region salvage at least a bonus point from the wreckage.

Two of them were excellent finishes, too. The first one saw him power through Mat Protheroe before sprinting away from Alex Cuthbert and running in from 35 metres.

Admittedly, his second try was a walk-in but the third saw him evade the clutches of two Ospreys defenders in very little space. He had no right to score – but he did.

That’s five tries in his last five appearances for the region. It’s the sort of form that demands attention. Pivac will be giving it some thought.

Giles’ all-court game

The other winger to catch the eye was Ospreys flier Keelan Giles. His first two crucial interventions were without the ball as he produced two try-saving tackles inside the first 10 minutes.

But his work with ball-in-hand eventually came to the fore as the game wore on. Two 50 metre breaks caught the eye and they both resulted in tries. He went searing up the near touchline in the first half and it resulted in Morgan Morris crashing over.

Then he went haring up the far touchline in the second half before sending Michael Collins under the sticks. There was a walk-in try and his speed forced Corey Baldwin into committing a yellow card offence.

In terms of contribution, he couldn’t have done much more.

North’s return

In a game that saw 13 tries scored, one of the biggest cheers of the night came when the ball was not even in play. It was when George North returned to the field after spending a year out with a knee injury.

The Welsh rugby stalwart has spent the last 12 months battling back from the ligament damage that ended his prospects of playing on the Lions tour last summer and kept him sidelined until now.

He came onto the field in the 39th minute after Mat Protheroe took a blow to the head. North stayed on for the duration and took up a position at outside centre, where he was so effective for Wales during the 2021 Six Nations. He had a steady involvement in the match and can be pleased with his evening’s work, given the circumstances.

North ran a hard line off Rhys Webb deep in the Scarlets 22 that was well defended but it attracted a number of red jerseys, given Keelan Giles a walk-in from the next phase. Later in the match, Giles made a break and North had to hit the jets to catch up with play and the good news is that the jets still work.

Welsh rugby is better for his return.

Costelow deserves credit

One of the real fillips for Welsh rugby this season, particularly since the turn of the new year, has been the progression of Sam Costelow. He returned to Wales a few years back with a fair bit of hype after his performances on the age-grade scene and he’s beginning to deliver on that.

He has put in some really impressive, commanding performances of late that have been well-rounded and for 40 minutes at the Swansea.com it was more of the same. He was a huge threat in the first half and caused the Ospreys any manner of problems.

Costelow made a searing break after just 60 seconds, going off script to cut a smart line at the tail of a lineout when Rhys Webb had got himself in a passing lane to cause problems for Gareth Davies. That would have resulted in a try but for some great cover defence from Giles.

Then he jinked between Adam Beard and Will Griffiths to set up a try and he kicked superbly throughout. The Ospreys eventually wrestled control of the game and there was little Costelow could do about it but when the game was ebbing and flowing in the first half, the diminutive pivot was at the forefront.

Look at what this league can be

From an Ospreys perspective, the day couldn’t have gone any better. The official attendance at the match was 10,141, making it the biggest regional attendance of the season.

There was plenty going on around the stadium well in advance of kick-off and fans were milling around for hours, making a day of it. They were then thoroughly entertained by a 13-try belter, which the home side obviously came out on top of.

The United Rugby Championship is often the source of derision in Wales and a lot of the time it deserves the stick it gets. It’s never quite captured the imagination here, but nobody could have any complaints about what was served up in this game. It was rugby at its finest and the entertainment value could not have been higher.

In Wales, fans don’t always get favourable kick off times and teams littered with Test match stars – but look at what happens when they do. A bubbling atmosphere and a superb spectacle.

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