Ulster miss out on the crucial try bonus point on Friday night, running in three tries to come from 7-0 down to win 21-7 against the Ospreys.
Keelan Giles gave Ulster a nightmare start with less than two minutes on the board however Stephen Myler‘s conversion would be the last points they would score.
Against the run of play Nick Timoney set up John Cooney to level the game on the stroke of half time. John Andrew and a penalty try rounded off Ulster’s scoring.
Ulster (7) 21
TRY: John Cooney, John Andrew, Penalty Try
CON: John Cooney (2)
Ospreys (7) 7
TRY: Keelan Giles
CON: Stephen Myler
The home side were very slow out of the blocks in the first half allowing Ospreys to stamp their authority on the game. Rhys Webb charged down an Ian Madigan clearance kick one minute into the game and allowed Giles to score his first PRO14 try this campaign in what was his first league start this season.
A lot of the first half was played in the Ulster half. The home side struggled to get their hands on the ball and any time they did, a knock-on error or mistake shortly followed. Their first venture into the Ospreys’ 22 wasn’t until 26 minutes through a Madigan penalty kick but the lineout was lost forward.
While Toby Booth‘s side controlled the game through a wonderful performance from scrum half Webb, they struggled with penetration and it wouldn’t be unfair to argue that Ulster repelled their attacks fairly comfortably. The away side had an attacking lineout on the Ulster 5m line and after attempting a maul they tried a high risk grubber through after barely testing the Ulster defence which resulted in turnover ball. That was Ospreys’ only golden opportunity to score their second try.
The same grubber kick from Ospreys resulted in turnover ball and a first Ulster score in the 38th minute of the match. Timoney broke from the Ulster 10m and found Cooney who touched down under the sticks. Unfortunate for Luke Morgan who looked as if he pulled up with a hamstring injury as he was catching the former Blackrock man.
Dan McFarland must have borrowed Fergie’s hairdryer as Ulster came out and dominated the second half. Robert Baloucoune replaced Jacob Stockdale on the wing in the second half and saw a lot more of the ball than the Irish international did.
The first half saw Ulster attempt audacious offloads, which didn’t always work and while there is no problem with this as it is how this side plays, they reverted to a simpler game in the second half which helped with ball retention.
John Andrew rumbled over for his 5th try of the season with 14 minutes played in the second half, justifying the decision to turn down kicks at goal from penalties in front of the posts. The penalty try followed seven minutes later when Dan Evans was adjudged to have deliberately knock-on in a try scoring opportunity. I can see why Sean Gallagher made that decision but also have some sympathy for the fullback as it appeared a instinctive reaction.
Ulster allowed the Ospreys to run time down on the yellow card through successive scrum resets and the home side never had an attacking position from which to launch from. As the game drew to a close Ulster began chasing that elusive bonus point. Rob Lyttle had two tries ruled out and thought he’d finally scored only for TMO Brian MacNeice to intervene and rule it out for a forward pass in midfield. From my position on the sofa, it looked like the correct decision was made on all three counts.
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Cormac Izuchukwu, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Matt Faddes, Robert Baloucoune
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Keelan Giles, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Keiran Williams, Luke Morgan, Stephen Myler, Rhys Webb; Gareth Thomas, Sam Parry, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, Rhys Davies, Will Griffiths, Olly Cracknell, Morgan Morris. Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Nicky Smith, Ma’afu Fia, Gareth Evans, Sam Cross, Shaun Venter, Joe Hawkins, Luke Price.
Who stood out?
This performance will not last long in the memory but I was impressed with the impact from the bench, in particular Sean Reidy and Baloucoune. Timoney had another solid outing at number eight while Jordi Murphy continued his 100% winning run as captain.
Where now for Ulster?
There’s a substantial possibility that Ulster could finish the season with only 1 loss and finish with more match points that the Conference B winners yet fail to make the play off spots.
The Dublin side welcome Glasgow Warriors to the RDS tonight and a bonus point win will see Leo Cullen and co. increase their lead on UIster at the top to six points.
It’s looking like we will need to take maximum points against Leinster next week and hope that someone picks up a further scalp in the remaining weeks. Another step towards a Leinster v Munster final awaits for the PRO14.