2016-17 PRO14

Ulster Rugby’s playoff hopes end in Swansea

Ospreys Rugby (17) 24
TRY: Tom Habberfield, Tyler Ardron, Brendon Leonard. CON: Dan Biggar (3). PEN: Dan Biggar
Ulster Rugby (3) 10
TRY: Jacob Stockdale. CON: Paddy Jackson. PEN: Paddy Jackson.

Ulster Rugby’s playoff hopes took a fatal hit on Saturday afternoon with a 24 – 10 defeat by Ospreys Rugby at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea. Though it’s still mathematically possible for Ulster to finish in the top four it would take a sensational set of results to make it happen, not least, Ulster getting a bonus point win against Leinster.

As I watched the guys during the warm up there was no real sense of urgency with too many of the team working in isolation. Certainly, when the teams reappeared for the main event it was the Ospreys that hit the ground running with a try by Tom Habberfield after 5 mins with Ulster barely having touched the ball. Dan Biggar converted and the hosts led 7 – 0.

In a scrappy first quarter, both teams opted to kick for territory and Ulster eventually came out on top with a Paddy Jackson penalty as the quarter approached its end. Unfortunately, Pienaar departed shortly after, having come into the game carrying a back injury, and within minutes Biggar restored their seven-point lead with a well-struck penalty. Ospreys finished the half well on top as Tyler Ardron finished off a well-worked move to score under the posts on the stroke of half-time.  Biggar again converted to take a 17  – 3 lead into the break.

Ulster dominated most of the second half but they were unable to take their chances. Jacob Stockdale wrecked havoc in the home side’s defence and the youngster could easily have had a hat-trick but for the bounce of the ball. Instead, he was restricted to a late score after the game was lost. By that time Ospreys had wrapped the game up with Brendon Leanard scoring a converted try with their only real chance in the second half.

Final score: Ospreys Rugby  24 Ulster Rugby 10. 

Ulster Rugby: Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Charles Piutau, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Andrew Warwick, Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst, Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Sean Reidy, Robbie Diack. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Rodney Ah You, Franco vd Merwe, Nick Timoney, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Jacob Stockdale.

The game was a microcosm of Ulster’s season, good in parts but lacking focus and, once again, they were unable to finish off a plethora of chances.

The lack of focus is the real concern. There is a good team in there but they just lose their way at crucial times either butchering a chance or giving away a soft try. To me, they are over-coached and have lost their instinctive feel for the game.

Match gallery by John McMurtry.

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