Justin Tipuric was a stand-out performer for the hosts. Ashley Crowden/INPHO

Ulster's indifferent form continues as mistakes cost them dear in Wales

Neil Doak’s side were far from their best with confidence levels clearly low.

Ospreys 31-20 Ulster

ULSTER PRODUCED A late rally at the Liberty Stadium but it was ultimately too little, too late as they slipped to a 31-20 defeat to the Ospreys in the Guinness Pro12.

Tries from replacement prop Rob Herring and then Tommy Bowe gave Neil Doak’s side a glimmer of hope in the final quarter but the deficit was too big to overturn as Ulster slipped to their second defeat in Wales in consecutive weeks.

After a mistake-riddled first-half, during which Ulster made a series of inexcusable errors, the game was decided with two contentious Television Match Official decisions either side of the interval.

Tries from Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb had opened up a significant lead for the Ospreys but it had seemed Ulster had given themselves a lifeline in the half’s last act when Ian Humphreys capitalised on a rare Ospreys handling error to touch down under the posts.

However, after the TMO initially adjudged there was no evidence to overrule the referee’s original decision, an intervention from Nigel Owens – standing as touch judge – led Neil Paterson to go back upstairs.

Eventually, the correct decision was made as an Ulster player had clearly knocked-on in the build-up but the manner in the way the decision came about did little to instil much confidence in the officials.

Then, minutes after the restart, Tim Hayes was called upon again. Eli Walker appeared to lose the ball forward in contact as he beared down on the line before Justin Tipuric kept the ball alive for Webb to score his second try.

Rhys Webb scores his side's second try Rhys Webb scored twice as Ospreys exposed Ulster's disjointed defence Ashley Crowden / INPHO Ashley Crowden / INPHO / INPHO

After much deliberation, the officials came to the conclusion that the ball didn’t go forward and the score was legitimate. It is on such decisions that games invariably hinge and for all their mistakes, Ulster were on the wrong end of a poor one.

Nevertheless, their overall performance left a lot to be desired and the visitors could have few complaints with the result.

The Ospreys dominated proceedings from the outset and got their just rewards with a fourth try and a bonus point just before the hour mark as Hanno Dirksen powered his way over.

Ulster did respond but they were the the architects of their own downfall with another sub-standard display. 

Biggar kicked the Welsh side into an early lead before Humphreys levelled matters with a penalty of his own.

But, Ulster’s disjointed defence was soon exposed by some exquisite handling by the hosts. Ospreys remained patient and Biggar’s offload to Alyn Wyn-Jones cut through the line of white shirts before the out-half finished off the move.

Ian Humphreys dejected after his try was disallowed Ian Humphreys was guilty of making several mistakes Ian Cook / INPHO Ian Cook / INPHO / INPHO

If the first try was soft, the second one was a Christmas gift. Humphreys opted to clear with his weaker right foot but only skied his clearance into midfield. Ospreys, once again, recycled possession, stretching Ulster’s defence before Marc Thomas’ offload created the opening for Webb.

Ospreys started the second period just as they did the first but were fortunate to create further daylight between themselves and Ulster with the TMO’s dubious call. There was nothing fortunate about their fourth as South African Dirksen completed another fine set piece.

Ulster added some gloss to the scoreboard but that will be of little consolation as Ospreys move to the top of the Pro12 standings. For Ulster, it’s back to the drawing board ahead of back-to-back inter-provincal clashes over the Christmas period.

They’ll be desperately hoping for some festive cheer to lift spirits.

Ospreys scorers:

Tries: Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb (2), Hanno DirksenConversions: Dan Biggar (4)

Penalties: Dan Biggar [2 from 2]

Ulster scorers: 

Tries: Rob Herring, Tommy Bowe

Conversions: Ian Humphreys (2)

Penalties: Ian Humphreys [2 from 2]

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 1 Marc Thomas, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt), 6 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 8 Tyler Ardron.

Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 Dan Lydiate, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Andrew Bishop.

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Mike Allen, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 1 Andrew Warwick, 2 Rory Best (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 4 Dan Tuohy, 5 Franco vd Merwe, 6 Robbie Diack, 7 Clive Ross, 8 Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Peter Nelson.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)

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