The Ospreys proved they have reasserted themselves as the best team in Wales as they deservedly beat the Scarlets 21-10 to take their place in the Heineken Champions Cup next season.
George North, Olly Cracknell and Hanno Dirksen scored their tries as the Scarlets were comfortably overcome in the Guinness Pro 14 play-off decider at the Liberty Stadium.
Jonathan Davies scored the Scarlets’ only try, but they rarely looked capable of recovering from a poor start and they will now miss out on Europe’s premier tournament for the first time – hardly the foundation incoming coach Brad Mooar must have imagined when he agreed to succeed Wayne Pivac next season.
If there was an edge to the Ospreys’ performance then it can be traced back to three months ago when they came close to being forced into a shotgun marriage with their rivals in the form of a merger.
Since then, they have rediscovered their focus and played their best rugby of the season, while the Scarlets have faded markedly from the heights they achieved last season.
Here, the Scarlets were hampered by the absence of injured Wales props Rob Evans and Samson Lee and flankers Aaron Shingler and James Davies.
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 added 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.
The Scarlets streamed forward and McNicholl fed Jonathan Davies for his team’s first try of the game. Halfpenny converted to shave the deficit to four points as the pendulum swung back in the direction of the men in red.
In the early throes of 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 converted as the hosts secured safe passage into the Champions Cup.
.It is the first time the Scarlets have failed to qualify for Europe’s top competition and they will now play in the Challenge Cup next season.
Ospreys: Dan Evans; George North, Cory Allen, Owen Watkin, Keelan Giles; Sam Davies, Aled Davies; Nicky Smith, Scott Baldwin, Tom Botha, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Olly Cracknell, Justin Tipuric (capt), Dan Lydiate.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Rhodri Jones, Ma’afu Fia, Bradley Davies, Sam Cross, Matthew Aubrey, Luke Price, Hanno Dirksen.
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny; Johnny McNicholl, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Ioan Nicholas; Dan Jones, Gareth Davies; Phil Price, Ken Owens (capt), Werner Kruger, Jake Ball, Steve Cummins, Josh Macleod, Will Boyde, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Wyn Jones, Simon Gardiner, David Bulbring, Uzair Cassiem, Kieran Hardy, Rhys Patchell, Paul Asquith.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)