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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019

Late Murphy withdrawal fuels World Cup speculation as Ulster open season with Ospreys win

Amid rumours that Jack Conan’s invovlement in Japan is over, the flanker was stood down at short notice.

Craig Gilroy makes a break.
Craig Gilroy makes a break.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ulster 38 

Ospreys 14 

Adam McKendry reports from the Kingspan Stadium

EVEN WHEN THE domestic season got underway, Ulster’s bonus-point start to the season couldn’t overshadow more World Cup rumours surrounding the northern province.

Flanker Jordi Murphy was withdrawn at last notice amid rumours that Jack Conan’s World Cup is over, but it ultimately wasn’t to cost Ulster as they ended up winning comfortably, 38-14 over the 14-man Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium.

In his first competitive game for 11 months, Craig Gilroy was at the double, while Greg Jones – ironically Murphy’s replacement, and debutant Matt Faddes also got in on the scoring.

It was a commanding performance from Dan McFarland’s charges, who will be delighted they didn’t trip up and fall after a start that could only be described as disastrous, and lived up to the potential that they are starting to realise.

As well as Faddes making his debut, there were also first starts for Jack McGrath and Sam Carter, while their young core continued to shine, with the likes of James Hume and Robert Lyttle to the fore.

As far as starts go, Ulster’s couldn’t have been too much worse, however. Not only did they find themselves behind after just five minutes when Luke Price kicked the opening penalty of the game, they were a try down just three minutes later.

The move that cut them open wasn’t complex, scrum-half Matthew Aubrey switching play back to the sweeping Price and he in turn set full-back Dan Evans through the gap. From there it was a foot race, and the fleet-footed Welshman had just enough to beat Lyttle to the try line and use the momentum to go over for the score.

A shell-shocked Ulster were rocked further when John Cooney, usually so reliable, pushed what looked to be a straightforward penalty wide of the posts, and the unrest inside Kingspan Stadium was palpable.

The settler came when Gilroy went over for his first try, and it was the excellent Billy Burns who put it on a plate for him. The maul did its part by causing the Ospreys’ defence to scramble, and with the backs in disarray, the fly-half dropped it perfectly into the winger’s hands for him to saunter over.

Price sent over another penalty to extend the visitors’ lead, but when a superb break from Hume and Lyttle saw the winger stopped metres short of the line, Luke Morgan’s cynical infringement may have prevented a try but it saw the winger given his marching orders, and the reprieve lasted less than a minute when Jones forced his way over for the second try.

It looked like the two sides would head in at the interval tied when Price fired over another penalty, but when the ball was turned over on halfway with the clock just ticking into the red, Ulster were lethal in converting the half chance.

Again it was Hume who made the initial carry, with Lyttle then taking it up just shy of the line, and when the ball went wide, Gilroy threw a fantastic skip pass all the way to the lurking Faddes on the wing and the full-back had the nous and ability to slide over in the corner under pressure for the score.

jordi-murphy Jordi Murphy at yesterday's captains run. He was stood down for tonight's game at short notice. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Ospreys visibly came out in the second half with their heads down, and after Cooney extended their lead with their only penalty of the game, it took just 11 minutes for Ulster to wrap up their bonus point.

It was practically a carbon copy of the winger’s first, only this time the build-up was all the more better as several players played a key role in getting the ball to Burns’ hands for the fly-half to deposit the cross-field kick in the winger’s hands. Lyttle did superbly well to keep the play alive down the touchline, Tom O’Toole and Carter had some big carries too, and Faddes was heavily involved as well.

rob-herring-with-tom-botha-and-dan-evans Ulster's Rob Herring with Tom Botha and Dan Evans of Ospreys. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Despite there still being half an hour to play, the game was as good as done, and when there was a bit of handbags down in the corner when the Ospreys cleared a kick from their own 22, it was a sign that the visitors were simply frustrated their performance hadn’t lived up to the opening few minutes.

Instead, they saw red – literally. When Faddes and Lyttle linked up again, the former setting the latter down the wing, it was the young winger who kicked in behind and chased his own kick, only to be impeded by Morgan in the process, earning a penalty try and the winger received his second yellow and his marching orders.

As if it wasn’t bad enough for the visitors, the final play of the game saw them at least get some consolation when Olly Cracknell burst the line and sent Aubrey over for a try and a parting shot, only for the TMO to rule it out for a forward pass, accurately summing up a dismal night for the Welsh side.

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Gilroy (2), Jones, Faddes, Penalty
Cons: Cooney (4), Penalty
Pen: Cooney

For Ospreys:

Try: Evans
Pens: Price (3)

ULSTER: Matt Faddes; Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall (Louis Ludik 73), James Hume, Robert Lyttle; Billy Burns (Michael Lowry 53), John Cooney (David Shanahan 71); Jack McGrath (Eric O’Sullivan 60), Rob Herring (John Andrew 71), Tom O’Toole (Ross Kane 60); Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter (Alan O’Connor 61); Matthew Rea (Clive Ross 71), Sean Reidy, Greg Jones.

OSPREYS:Dan Evans (Cai Evans 40); Luke Morgan, Cory Allen (Reuben Morgan-Williams 53), Scott Williams, Keelan Giles; Luke Price (Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler 47), Matthew Aubrey; Rhodri Jones (Gareth Thomas 57), Sam Parry (Scott Otten 53), Tom Botha (Gheorghe Gajion 62); James King (Dan Baker 34), Lloyd Ashley; Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell, Gareth Evans (Sam Cross 54).

Yellow card: Luke Morgan (30′)
Red card: Luke Morgan (73′, second yellow)

Man of the Match: Billy Burns (Ulster)
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Ospreys)

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