Jacob Stockdale scored the only try of the game as Ulster defeated the Ospreys 8-0 and keep up the hunt for the third play off spot.
Ulster controlled the game with 69% possession and 80% territory in a game where the score line did not reflect the performance on the pitch. I only recall the Ospreys entering the Ulster 22m line twice, both of which were in the first half while Dan Evans and Kieron Fonotia made the only line breaks of the night for the visitors.
Ulster took an early 3-0 lead thanks to a penalty from John Cooney. In the first ten minutes, two poor kicks from Johnny McPhillips gave the ball to the Ospreys when perhaps the ball should have been kept in hand and recycled. Despite going off before half time, McPhillips once again showed that he can vary the Ulster attack with his performance tonight.
Jean Deysel was immense once again and nearly put Jacob Stockdale through for the first try but Bradley Davies managed to grab hold of his jersey to prevent the Irish Grand Slam winner from crossing the line. The South African international is beginning to show is true colours and was a nuisance at the breakdown for the second week in a row. A feature throughout the game, Ulster tried to force things from the next phase which resulted in a knock on.
Ulster limited the Ospreys to only one entry into the their 22 in 25 minutes but despite the majority of possession, Ulster had only three points on the board. As the game rolled on I thought it was going to be one of those matches were Ulster concede a undeserved try to lose out. It seemed that this was going to be the case when the Osprey backs exploited a some forwards in the defensive line. Kieran Fonotia thought he had touched down but the try was disallowed for a neck roll from Alun-Wyn Jones.
Again inaccuracies in the final third plagued Ulster’s night. Matthew Rea made a bust however Ospreys’ flanker Sam Cross won a penalty for holding on at the following breakdown. Another visit went unpunished when a five metre lineout was lost, allowing the visitors to relieve pressure.
Ospreys’ game management was very poor throughout the match which allowed Ulster to have complete dominance. On another day, Ulster would have had that match won in the first half. Constant mistakes kept them pinned in their own half as well as preventing them from building any momentum.
Ulster continued to launch a barrage of attacks at the Ospreys defence. Henderson made his presence felt by attacking every ruck, but still they could not find the decisive break through. Ulster had a five metre scrum, but Piutau’s offload did not manage to find Stockdale who would have had an easy run through.
Ospreys’ wing, Jeff Hassler was sent to the sin bin just before the hour mark and still Ulster could not cross the line. All of the second half was played in the Ospreys half with Ulster having 71% of the possession and 82% of the territory. The TMO was required to rule out a Nick Timoney try after a great kick from Luke Marshall.
The breakthrough was made in the final play of the game. Ironically, despite Ulster creating a plethora of chances it took a stray pass from Dan Biggar to result in the first try. Jacob Stockdale did what he does best and latch onto it to run in from 40m out in the last play of the game.
Other results tonight work in Ulster’s favour. Glasgow got their much needed point to guarantee a semi final spot in the play offs while Munster’s win in Bloemfontein means that the Cheetahs cannot catch them. As Ulster’s last two matches are against both of these sides, hopefully it means that they are open to rotate their squads.
Yes it was frustrating at times, but we’re beginning to see Ulster play rugby at a tempo befitting of this team. Accuracy needs to improve but Ulster showed plenty of creativity while Johnny McPhillips is slowly growing into the out half jersey.
Next week provides a completely different challenge in the shape of Glasgow Warriors in the final home game of the season. Ulster will certainly not be allowed to butcher the amount of chances that they did tonight.
The pack performed admirably with Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea and Jean Deysel in particular excelling. Rea has come on leaps and bounds since his debut at the start of the season.
Sean Reidy was his usual industrious self, delivering another solid performance.
In the backs, Darren Cave once again marshalled the defensive line - when he had to - while Jacob Stockdale and Charles Piutau combined and caused Ospreys plenty of problems. Both players could have had a brace of tries each.
- Callum Black
- Rory Best
- Ross Kane
- Kieran Treadwell
- Iain Henderson
- Matthew Rea
- Sean Reidy
- Jean Deysel
- John Cooney
- Johnny McPhillips
- Jacob Stockdale
- Stuart McCloskey
- Darren Cave
- Louis Ludik
- Charles Piutau
- Rob Herring
- Andy Warwick
- Tom O'Toole
- Alan O'Connor
- Nick Timoney
- Dave Shanahan
- Luke Marshall
- Tommy Bowe