Ospreys 13 – 16 Ulster
Looking at the team sheets, you would have been forgiven to think that this game had excitement written all over it. Sadly, it didn’t transpire that way.
A crowd of over 8,000 was there to welcome the defending champions Ospreys to their first home game of the season, with the hopes of defeating the visiting Ulster. It was a cagey start from both sides, with the forwards providing the platform but neither set of backs being able to utilise it.
At times it was a comedy of errors with missed passes, knock-ons or simply passing the ball straight into touch. Niall O’Connor was to have another poor day with the boot, although he did manage to slot over a penalty to give Ulster a 3-0 lead.
In a stodgy first half it was the home side that finally sent a thrill of excitement around the Liberty Stadium. The ever aggressive Dirksen managed to break through the Ulster midfield, yet he ran away from his supporting players and when faced with two Ulster players that should have been the end of his chance. Full back Jared Payne will hope not to see the replays as Dirksen handed him off with ease to elude Marshall to cross the try line. Morgan converted.
The game stuttered on with neither side being able to add to their points total, with the half time score remaining 7 – 3 to the Ospreys.
Paddy Jackson came on fifteen minutes into the second half and took over the kicking duties from O’Connor, immediately slotting 3 points. But it was the Ospreys who had extended their lead through the boot of Morgan, and going in to the last quarter they had what appeared to be a safe gap of 13 -6, with Ulster showing no signs of being able to score.
Cue the release of players from the Ulster bench. The introduction of Afoa, Trimble and Ferris made a difference. Now it was the Ospreys that were under pressure and scrambling in defence. Discipline soon told and just before the 70th minute, Jackson cut the lead to 13-9. Now the Ospreys were doing their best to hold on for the win.
Ulster continued their charge, but the Ospreys held firm and managed to stop prop Afoa just short of the line. It seemed they had done enough, but scrum half Marshall saw the opportunity and scooped up the ball to dive over the ruck to score. Jackson converted.
With five minutes remaining on the clock the defending champions now trailed 13-16 and try as they might they could make no inroads into the Ulster defence, who managed to see out the game for the win.
An error strewn game, this was not one for the neutral. The Ospreys will be disappointed with letting a lead slip, and only having two losing bonus points to their name thus far. Ulster will be very pleased that they could perform so badly for 60 minutes and still come away with a win – and an away win at the Ospreys is one of the hardest to come by.
Both sides have the forwards that are giving them possession to work with, but both sets of fans will be hoping that their teams’ backlines start firing, and quickly. There are other sides in the PRO12 who won’t let the amount of errors go unpunished.
Man of the Match: Nick Williams
Full time score: Ospreys 13 – 16 Ulster
My predicted score: Ospreys 22 – 19 Ulster
Referee: Neil Paterson
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell 14 Hanno Dirksen 13 Andrew Bishop 12 Ashley Beck 11 Tom Isaacs 10 Matthew Morgan 9 Rhys Webb 1 Ryan Bevington 2 Richard Hibbard 3 Aaron Jarvis 4 Ian Gough
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Capt) 6 James King 7 Justin Tipuric 8 Jonathan Thomas
Replacements:16 Scott Baldwin 17 Duncan Jones 18 Joe Rees 19 George Stowers 20 Joe Bearman
21 Kahn Fotuali’I 22 Dan Biggar 23 Tom Grabham
Ulster: 15 J Payne; 14 C Gilroy, 13 D Cave, 12 L Marshall, 11 M Allen; 10 N O’Connor, 9 M Heaney; 1 C Black, 2 R Herring, 3 D Fitzpatrick, 4 J Muller (c), 5 L Stevenson, 6 M McComish, 7 S Doyle, 8 N Williams;
Replacements: 16 N Brady, 17 T Court, 18 J Afoa, 19 N McComb, 20 S Ferris, 21 P Marshall, 22 P Jackson, 23 A Trimble.