Ulster win their first away game of the season as they triumph three tries to nil over the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Jacob Stockdale, Marcell Coetzee and John Cooney were on the scoresheet while Cooney contributed a further nine points from the boot.
Iain Henderson set the tone of the game by declining a straightforward goal kick attempt from a penalty in favour of kicking the ball down the line. A solid maul gave the side a platform before a line break from Marcus Rea brought the side to within five metres. A few tight phases followed before Stockdale found some space, juggled the ball before sliding over.
Ulster’s elusive runner put in an assured performance from fullback on Saturday evening. Stockdale was very comfortable under the high ball, not fumbling one all night, while he made a few good clean breaks after receiving kicks. I think it’s harsh to say that that he’s been out of form. It’s fair to say that he’s not been scoring as many tries, but he hasn’t had many opportunities. Against Toulouse he missed a couple of tackles that he had a very low chance of making, but he’s made a good start to this season’s PRO14 and has been a threat in attack.
Cooney and Stephen Myler traded penalties leaving it 10-3 with five minutes to go in the first half. While Ulster only conceded 13 penalties in the match at least three of them were unforced and very preventable. The Dublin scrum half missed a kick to give Ulster a ten-point lead at the break before a needless tug on Rhys Webb’s jersey allowed Myler narrowed the deficit to four points.
The second came in the second half with Kieran Treadwell flopping off his feet at an attacking breakdown in the second half. There wasn’t an Ospreys player in position to compete for the ball but it gave Mike Adamson a reason to blow for the penalty and relieve the pressure for the home side. The Ospreys held onto the ball and were able to win another penalty on Ulster’s ten metre line and Myler converting for three points.
Lastly and possibly the worst of all, Iain Henderson was rightly shown a red card for connecting Dan Evans’ head with his shoulder. Henderson had no need to enter the ruck, nevermind at an angle that was always going to result in a red card, as the ruck was dead with the home side with the ball, and Ulster having a 12 point lead with five minutes to go. Ulster weren’t chasing the game, especially as Toby Booth’s men had not looked like scoring a try all afternoon.
It was incredibly stupid from an important player for Ulster and this will certainly have opened the door for Andy Farrell to select Ryan Baird and James Ryan at second row for the upcoming international matches. Looking at World Rugby’s guidelines [below], we can see clearly that it was a red card as there were no mitagating factors in Henderson’s favour. I don’t think he is a dirty player and there was no intent to injure, but it was reckless as a result of his over-excuberence at the ruck.
I think Henderson could be looking at a 3-6 week suspension. It’s definitely a mid range offence (6 weeks) but I think his ‘clean record’ will work in his favour. Henderson was shown a red card against Munster in 2015 but escaped a ban after the hearing concluded he should have only been show yellow. He was also cited last year for a clear out against the Ospreys which went unpunished during the game but the citing commissioner found that he had ‘attempted to perform a legitimate clear out’.
Despite this, I though Henderson had a very good game. His carries provided Ulster with a great platform as he generally broke the gainline while in defence he was up in the Ospreys’ faces, limiting the amount of momentum that the home side could create. He led with Marcell Coetzee who put in a man of the match peformance and scored the second try.
Henderson was at the forefront with a strong carry after the South African had offloaded to Eric O’Sullivan at full throttle. All it needed was one more carry from the number eight and Ulster had crossed the line to make it an 11-point game. Myler added a further two penalties before John Cooney crossed for the final try of the game.
Stewart Moore and Jacob Stockdale ran very good lines in the centre of the pitch to fix the home defence, giving Rob Lyttle more space on the left wing. Cooney carried his excellent supporting line and benefitted with the RBAI Schools’ Cup winner passing for the scrum half to finish a well worked set play move.
I thought Ulster’s set piece was excellent. They didn’t lose a linout all night, but kept contesting on opposition ball with Iain Henderson and Alan O’Connor putting pressure on Scott Otten’s throw forcing the overthrow. Latterly, Kieran Treadwell was able to pinch a couple when he came on in the second half.
Marcell Coetzee was deserved man of the match but I thought there were other good performances in the pack including Henderson, Marcus Rea, Eric O’Sullivan, O’Connor and Rob Herring. The pack was a dominant fixture in the match on Saturday night.
Defensively there’s a lot for Jared Payne to be pleased about. The line speed was fantastic and didn’t allow Rhys Webb or Stephen Myler to control the game. We failed to see the backline that was so potent against Edinburgh, with Mat Protheroe hardly touching the ball. Kieran Williams was also unable to break the gainline thanks to Ulster’s defence.
As mentioned, discipline was an issue and kept the Ospreys in the game longer than they should have been. Ospreys made no line breaks in the game, a testament to Ulster’s defence but also how blunt they were in an attacking sense.
It was definitely a case of the Ospreys being woeful and Ulster being slightly better. Ulster converted the chances they created but made a few mistakes which kept the home side within reaching distance. Still, they looked very comfortable and they deserved to hold out at the end of the game.
Next up Ulster welcome Dragons to Kingspan Stadium. Under Dean Ryan, the Newport side were hammered by Leinster in the first game but bounced back to defeat Zebre at Rodney Parade.