Ospreys 16 Ulster 20
The Ospreys suffer a narrow defeat in their opening home game of the new season, as Ulster win at the Liberty Stadium for the first time since May 2006
On a glorious late summer evening, it was the Ospreys who got the game underway and they wasted no time in setting up camp in Ulster territory, The early pressure resulted in the Ospreys taking an early lead, James Hook getting the first three points of the day after the visitors were penalised for killing the ball in the ruck with just four minutes on the clock.
Ulster were straight on the attack from the restart, claiming the ball and spreading it wide for second row Dan Tuohy to saunter over in the corner to claim the try, Ian Humphries failing with a difficult conversion attempt from the touchline.
The visitors extended their lead with a second try after just 9 minutes, Humphries intercepting close to his own 10 metre line and racing clear before unselfishly passing to winger Simon Danielli who touched down, with Humphries duly adding the two points to make it 12-3.
The Ospreys were finding it difficult to stamp their authority on a game that was being played at a fast pace, with Ulster effectively disrupting the home team’s gameplan, but a moment of inspiration from Andrew Bishop led to their first try of the game in the 19th minute. The Welsh international centre picked the ball up at the foot of a defensive ruck and burst clear creating a gap for Mike Phillips to carry deep into Ulster territory before feeding Nikki Walker, the Scottish international outpacing his compatriot Danielli to score in the corner. Hook narrowly missed the conversion attempt, before a long range penalty attempt from the same player just faded away, leaving the score 12-8 to Ulster.
Try-scorer Touhy’s evening was cut short after he being on the receiving end of a trademark massive hit by Jerry Collins, the second-rower being helped off the field looking visibly shaken.
Hook failed with a penalty attempt from a central position close to halfway that drifted to the left of the posts, before his opposite number Humphries made no mistake from right in front of the uprights to extend Ulster’s lead to seven points a minute before the break.
The Ospreys then almost carved open the Ulster defence after Bishop’s initial burst on halfway, with Walker’s speed and crafty sidestep taking him away from two defenders, only for him to knock on as he looked to offload in the 22.
With almost 5 minutes of added time on the clock, Ulster were reduced to 14 when full-back Clinton Schifcofske was penalised for interfering with the ball as the Ospreys piled on the pressure. From the resulting penalty, Hook kicked to touch, and from the lineout, the Ospreys pack rumbled over the line for blood replacement Duncan Jones, on for Cai Griffiths just seconds earlier, to ground the ball for the Ospreys second try of the evening. Hook was once again unsuccessful with the follow-up, his conversion hitting the left upright to leave it 15-13 to Ulster at half-time.
The Ospreys made a good start to the second half, making a number of forward charges with Mike Phillips pulling the strings, and the pressure resulted in a penalty which Hook slotted over comfortably to put them back in front three minutes after the restart.
Humphries missed with a penalty attempt from the 10 metre line a couple of minutes later, before the Ospreys made two changes, Huw Bennett replacing Richard Hibbard and Jonathan Thomas taking the place of Andy Lloyd for his first appearance since February.
Ulster edged back in front in the 51st minute, Humphries and Timoci Nagusa combining well to set up Danielli, who did well to jink his way past a number of players to score his second try, and Ulster’s third, in the corner, Humphries missing with the conversion.
A topsy-turvy game swung back in the Ospreys favour, with the forwards applying considerable pressure on the Ulster defence without finding a way through as the game was being played out in the visitors half for long periods. Tommy Bowe made a welcome return to Ospreys action, replacing Walker as the Ospreys looked to make the breakthrough, and he was joined shortly after by Tom Smith, who replaced Collins.
The Ospreys made further changes, bringing Tommy Bowe and Dan Biggar into the action as they continued to try and find a way through a well organised Ulster defence in the closing stages, but ultimately, they struggled to put together the moves to break down the opposition, allowing the visitors to hold firm without too many difficulties to secure their first win at the Liberty Stadium since they clinched the Magners League title on the final day of the 2005-06 season.