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Ulster slip to a disappointing defeat against Conference A’s bottom side Ospreys in a return to Guinness PRO14 action.

The Cheetahs’ heavy defeat against Leinster keeps them at arms length however a bonus point win for Glasgow over Zebre on Friday night sees them move to eight points behind Ulster.

Luke Price added the opening points with a penalty before Stuart McCloskey set up Robert Baloucoune for the game’s opening score. Owen Watkin regained the lead for the home side after 16 minutes while a Scott Otten brace extended their lead to 13 points with half an hour remaining.

Tries from Matt Faddes and McCloskey within five minutes hauled Ulster back into the lead as they attempted to close out the final ten minutes of the match. With one point in it, a penalty was conceded inside the 10m line which handed the hosts the victory.

It was a bitterly disappointing performance from Ulster against a side that had only one win in the league all season. Mistakes in tough conditions were aplenty and early signs with two kicks charged down suggested it was going to be tough for Ulster.

I don’t buy into the idea that a side ‘wants’ a game more and we did see some steel from Dan McFarland’s men to take the lead from 13 points behind. Two or three seasons ago it would not have been out of the question to see Ulster concede another couple of tries before clawing back a consolation or two to make the scoreline respectable. However, with Marcell Coetzee well marked, Ulster looked a bit short of a few ideas in attack.

Overall it was poor, but there were parts of the second half which were pleasing. There was a period of 15 minutes where the forwards stood up and brought Ulster back into the game. Playing the game within ten metres of the ruck brought dividends as Matt Faddes had an easy run in on the hour mark. In tough conditions it was the correct game plan and I thought Ulster executed fairly efficiently.

They were however, up against a dogged defence and an Ospreys side with a point to prove lead by Dan Lydiate. A back row of Lydiate, Olly Cracknell and Gareth Evans put in 67 tackles (Opta) between them, only two shy of Ulster pack. I do think Ospreys got some luck with the decisions on the deck, but they’re the same calls that Ulster would have got if they were at home.

Ulster gave away their own share of daft penalties – notably the penalty that put the Ospreys in the lead for the final time as well as an Adam McBurney one late in the second half when Ulster had the Ospreys in their own half.

Ulster appeared rusty after the four week break and take on the Cheetahs at Kingspan Stadium next Saturday. It’s a game I expect them to win as the South African sides don’t usually travel well. Five points is a must and it would beneficial if Ulster could deny the Cheetahs any as they have a favourable final run of fixtures.

Remaining fixtures:

Ulster (37 points) Cheetahs (31) Glasgow (29)
Cheetahs (H) Ulster (A) Dragons (H)
Benetton (A) Dragons (A) Leinster (A)
Dragons (H) Leinster (H) Ospreys (A)
Glasgow (A) Edinburgh (H) Ulster (H)
Dragons (A) Ospreys (H) Connacht (A)
Edinburgh (H) Glasgow (A) Cheetahs (H)
Connacht (A) Zebre (H) Munster (A)
Glasgow (H) Dragons (A) Ulster (A)
Zebre (A) Benetton (H) Ospreys (H)
Leinster (H) Southern Kings (A) Edinburgh (H)
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