The seniors made it a double delight as Ulster eased past a disjointed Ospreys side, scoring five tries in a 38-14 victory.
Craig Gilroy grabbed a brace while Matt Faddes added a debut try. Greg Jones and a penalty try secured a comfortable victory against a very poor performance from the Welsh region.
Ulster (21) 38
TRY: Craig Gilroy (2), Greg Jones, Matt Faddes, Penalty Try
CON: John Cooney (4)
PEN: John Cooney
Ospreys (14) 14
TRY: Dan Evans
PEN: Luke Price (3)
It took just seven minutes for the first ‘Waken Up Ulster’ gulder of the season to surface as Dan Evans cut through a gap in Ulster’s defence the size of a crater to give the Welsh side an 8-0 lead.
Nevertheless Ulster didn’t panic and regained control of the match shortly after. A perfectly weighted kick from Billy Burns found Gilroy who scored on his first competitive match in 11 months.
While there were a few inaccuracies which can be put down to a lack of match fitness, they were a cut above their opposition tonight. New signings Faddes, Sam Carter and Jack McGrath impressed with Carter already commanding the Ulster lineout. His prowess showed with Ulster recording a 100% 12/12 lineout tally.
For the second try on the half hour mark, the forwards took control. Nothing extravagant was on offer other than powerful carriers running straight and keeping the defence on the back foot. Jones crossed for his first try for the senior side. Faddes put some day light between the sides at the break with a well deserved try.
As the lights went out in the Family Stand, so did Ospreys chances in the second half. Gilroy added his second try thanks to another kick from Burns before a penalty try was awarded with nine minutes left.
It was a typical first game of the season from Ulster. Plenty of simple mistakes frustrated the Ulster faithful but the boys got the job done with plenty to spare. There’s things to work on, including defence ahead of tougher tasks and I’m sure Jared Payne will be scratching his head as to how Evans so easily carved the Ulster open.
A successful set piece is the component to ensure Ulster improve on last year’s performance. With Carter there to coordinate it while Iain Henderson is away at the World Cup, I’ve every faith that the Australian international will have Ulster hitting the percentages expected from McFarland.
Not only did Ulster record good numbers on their own throw but they seemed to have the measure of the Ospreys, especially in the second half when they managed to jump and steal ball on their own five metre half. Although just one steal was recorded, Carter, Kieran Treadwell and Sean Reidy regularly got up alongside their opposite numbers, making it scrappy for Allen Clarke’s men.
ULSTER: Matt Faddes, Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, James Hume, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Matty Rea, Jordi Murphy, Sean Reidy. Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, Dave Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Louis Ludik
OSPREYS: Dan Evans, Luke Morgan, Cory Allen, Scott Williams, Keelan Giles, Luke Price, Matthew Aubrey, Rhodri Jones, Sam Parry, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell, Gareth Evans. Replacements: Scott Otten, Gareth Thomas, Gheorghe Gajoin, Sam Cross, Dan Baker, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Cai Evans, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler
Where now for Ulster?
A tough two week tour of South Africa. Against two sides largely unaffected by international call ups, McFarland’s men will have their work cut out if they’re to come away with two wins against sides that you’d expect to beat with internationals in play.
Ruan Pienaar led Cheetahs to a resounding victory over PRO14 finalists Glasgow and have the obvious advantage of the altitude at Bloemfontein. Ulster left with a draw last year thanks to a last minute Henry Speight try converted by Burns and I would bite your hand off for that same result again.