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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Ospreys fend off Ulster comeback and all but end their Pro12 dream

It was make or break for the northern province, but Ospreys came out on top.

Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is tackled.
Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is tackled.
Image: CameraSport/Simon King/INPHO

Ospreys 24

Ulster 10

ULSTER’S HOPES OF making it three Irish provinces in the Guinness PRO12 play-offs are all but over after they failed to take anything from their trip to the fourth-placed Ospreys.

A one point gap between themselves and the play-off places grew to three ahead of the Scarlets’ game in Galway against Connacht. The win for the Ospreys moved them five ahead of Ulster.

The four-time champions took their chances in the first half and then relied on some water-tight defence in the second to do more than enough to frustrate their visitors. A burst of two tries, one for each side, in the final few minutes added an ironic twist in the tail.

“It looks like that is it for us,” admitted Ulster skipper Andre Trimble, “although it is an Inter-Pro game against Leinster next week and that will give us plenty to play for.”

Ulster arrived at the ground at which they clinched the title way back in 2006 knowing they had to pick up points to stay in the hunt for a top four finish and they got off to the worst possible start. Iain Henderson conceded a needless penalty at a ruck and, after kicking to the corner, the Ospreys won a scrum five metres out.

Ruan Pienaar disrupted Rhys Webb’s pass to the blindside, but Ashley Beck picked up, passed out of the tackle and sent wing Tom Habberfield over unopposed in the left corner. Dan Biggar added the extras and the home side were off to a flyer.

Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty. Source: CameraSport/Simon King/INPHO

With only a point advantage over their visitors, and coming into the game on the back of a four match losing streak, the Welsh region knew they could ill afford to lose a third home game against Irish opposition after falling to Munster and Leinster.

Paddy Jackson got Ulster on the board with an 18th minute penalty and then they lost Pienaar with a back injury. Everyone in Belfast will be hoping that it doesn’t stop him from making a final home appearance against Leinster next weekend before heading to France next season.

Biggar was quick to respond to Jackson’s penalty with one of his own moments after Pienaar departed and a poor first half from the visitors, in which they lost three line-outs and made seven handling errors, ended calamitously when Dan Evans ran back a Jackson kick downfield.

The home full-back gathered on his 10-metre line, sprinted past Rory Best and Paul Marshall, and into the Ulster 22. He passed outside to Habberfield, who then returned inside to lock Tyler Ardron who crossed at the posts.

Biggar couldn’t miss with the conversion from there and it meant the Ospreys went into the break 17-3 ahead. The air must have been blue in the Ulster dressing room at half time because they came out and controlled most of the second half in terms of both territory and possession, but they found points hard to come by against some stern Ospreys defence.

Kieron Fonotia offloads to Dan Biggar Ospreys' Kieron Fonotia offloads to Dan Biggar. Source: CameraSport/Simon King/INPHO

Stuart McCloskey broke through, Kieran Treadwell galloped all over the field and Jacob Stockdale almost made the line, but time kept ticking away. It didn’t help Ulster’s cause that they lost Stuart Olding moments after he came onto the field with what looked like a serious injury to his left ankle and then Stockdale just failed to control a desperate kick and chase over the home line.

A Kieron Fonotia break then paved the way for a try for replacement scrum half Brendon Leonard a minute from time and Biggar added a quick conversion. The Ospreys sniffed a bonus point, but quick as a flash Stockdale cut through for a try as the game moved into the 80th minute.

Jackson drop kicked the conversion, but there was no more last-gasp drama and the Ospreys ended their losing run and did enough to virtually book themselves a semi-final spot.

It has also been confirmed that Pienaar has a back spasm and Olding’s ankle injury is season-ending.

Ospreys scorers:
Tries: Habberfield ’8, Ardron ’40, Leonard ’79
Conversions: Biggar ’9, ’41, ’79
Penalties: Biggar ’25
Ulster scorers:
Try: Stockdale ’80
Conversion: Jackson ’80
Penalty: Jackson ’19

OSPREYS: Evans; Giles, Fonotia, Beck (Matavesi ’65), Habberfield (Davies ’74); Biggar, Webb (captain) (Leonard ’76); Smith (James ’65), Baldwin, Mujati (Jones 54), Davies (Ashley ’62), Ardron, Underhill (Baker ’67), Tipuric (Baker ’37-40), King

Replacement not used: Otten

ULSTER: Gilroy; Trimble (captain), L Marshall, McCloskey (Olding ’53 (Stockdale ’55)), Piutau; Jackson, Pienaar (P Marshall ’23); Warwick (Black ’55), Best (Herring ’65), Herbst (Ah You ’44), Treadwell, O’Connor (Van der Merwe ’77), Henderson, Reidy, Diack (Timoney ’62)

Attendance: 8,168

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