Updated: Apr 2, 2021
After the exciting but low-scoring win against Zebre last week, the Ospreys travelled to Ireland to face Ulster in the Pro 14 at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening. This was not a game that the Ospreys were expected to even turn up for, with everyone predicting a simple BP win for the Irish side. However when the Ospreys kicked off, Ulster seemingly remained in the changing rooms as from the third ruck, Rhys Webb charged down the Ulster scrum-half’s attempted box kick. He was first to the ball, hacked it on and chased it towards the try line. Instead of Webb scoring a try, Keelan Giles sprinted past everyone, including Webb, grabbed the ball and slid over the line for the game’s opening try. Myler converted and the Ospreys led 0-7 after just 3 minutes.
The next 35 minutes were all about the Ospreys as they flew into Ulster at every opportunity and forced error after error after error. The Ospreys lineout was in fine form, unlike last week when they operated at less than 50%, and they hassled and harried their way into winning the possession and territory battles. The Ospreys scrum was also going well and won a few penalties.
Then it all went wrong. Another promising Ospreys attack was halted when a kick from Tian Thomas-Wheeler was blocked and as he attempted to regather the ball, it slipped out of his grasp and straight into the hands of an Ulster player. Quickly turning defence into attack, Ulster broke down their left wing with the Ospreys defence unfortunately and hopelessly out of position. Simple hands allowed the Ulster scrum-half an easy run in for the game’s second try. He would have been caught by the covering Luke Morgan, but he pulled up with a hamstring injury that would lead to him being substituted for Shaun Venter. The conversion was good and the score 7-7 after 39 minutes. This was the first and only time in the half that Ulster had been in the Ospreys 22. There was no further action, and the half time whistle went.
The second half saw the real Ulster come and play. The game perhaps hinged on a moment just a minute into the second half when the Ospreys won a penalty for offside. Myler sent the kick deep into the Ulster half to set up an attacking lineout. This was a perfect opportunity for the Ospreys driving maul to come to the fore, but an overthrow coughed up possession and the chance was gone. Then it was all Ulster as they began to win the collisions and make the sort of gains, they failed to make in the first half.
On 50 minutes, Ifan Phillips and Ma’afu Fia came on for Sam Parry and Tom Botha but they could not halt the Ulster tide. Ulster won a penalty that was kicked to touch, and they set up a driving maul that did not go anywhere. They maintained possession and moved the ball into midfield. They won a really cheap penalty when Kieran Williams was penalised for rolling into the scrum-half even though the Irish player did his level best to draw the penalty from the ref. Under advantage, Ulster went wide and looked to have scored a try, but a forward pass denied the score; so they kicked the resulting penalty to touch and drove over for their second try of the game. The conversion was good, and the score was 14-7 after 54 minutes.
The Ospreys had the next opportunity to score when Morgan Morris burst through a gap but a combination of a bout of cramp and a lack of support saw the chance go begging and Ulster won a penalty that was kicked to touch. Ulster went off the top and won another penalty after another Ospreys maul infringement. Playing under advantage, Ulster went through the phases and drew in the Ospreys defence before going wide. The last pass was almost intercepted by Dan Evans and the referee indicated that play would go back for the penalty but the TMO came in and showed that Evans had, in fact, deliberately knocked the ball on with two Ulster players clear outside him. The referee had no other option, other than to show Evans the yellow card and award Ulster the penalty try to make the score 21-7 after 62 minutes.
Down a man, it was all hands to the pump for the Ospreys as they defended manfully to try and deny Ulster the Bonus Point score. Great tackles from Giles and Rhys Davies saved certain tries as Ulster stepped up the pace. A Webb box kick was charged down and Ulster looked to have scored that elusive fourth try but the referee saw a clear forward pass and the Ospreys were awarded a scrum. After a couple of resets, the Ospreys won another scrum penalty with Nicky Smith, on for Gareth Thomas, leading the charge. On 72 minutes, Webb and Cracknell were replaced by Joe Hawkins and Sam Cross, respectively.
The Ospreys had yet another chance to get within losing bonus point range when they won a penalty at the breakdown that Myler kicked to touch for an attacking lineout, but another overthrow looked to have blown the opportunity but the Ospreys somehow regained possession only to concede it again by getting penalised at the next breakdown. With time running out, the Ulster ten went for broke with his kick to touch but missed and the Ospreys tried to run from deep, only to concede possession yet again. Ulster went through the phases and thought that they had the fourth try only for another forward pass in the build up to stop play and give Ospreys a scrum.
The Ospreys were trying to go the length for a try but just as the chance looked to present itself, Giles could not hold the pass and knocked the ball on, giving Ulster the scrum. Here they won a penalty that they kicked to touch to set up what would turn out to be their final chance for the BP try. They set up a maul but were forced to move the ball away into midfield where the Ospreys won a turnover but before they could set up an attack, Ulster forced a knock-on and the game was over.
This was a game where the score line slightly flattered Ulster and the Ospreys gave their absolute all in their efforts. Had Ulster gone in at half time down by 7 points and had the Ospreys taken that first second half chance, things could and probably would have been different. However, Ulster are a top side and came back so much stronger in the second half and deserved to win.
Final Score Ulster 21 Ospreys 7.