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Ulster overcome Ospreys but miss out on bonus point

Dan McFarland’s men were nearly kept scoreless at half-time on home soil.

Ulster’s Rob Lyttle.
Ulster’s Rob Lyttle.
Image: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Ulster Rugby 21
Ospreys 7

Adam McKendry reports from Kingspan Stadium

ULSTER MISSED THE chance to put additional pressure on Leinster at the top of Conference A in the Guinness Pro14 as they laboured to a 21-7 win over the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium but failed to pick up that all-important bonus point.

Dan McFarland’s men were nearly kept scoreless at half-time on home soil as the Ospreys exerted a surprising amount of control over proceedings before the break, with only John Cooney’s try just before the interval getting them on the board.

After the restart, the province gave themselves a great chance to get the job done when John Andrew crossed and they were awarded a penalty try just after the hour mark, but, like in Glasgow a week prior, despite having plenty of time they couldn’t find the fourth try for the extra point.

Rob Lyttle had a late score chalked off for a forward pass just to rub salt in the wounds and it leaves McFarland’s side one point behind Leinster in the standings despite having played one game more than their rivals.

There was a positive to take in that winger Jacob Stockdale made a successful return from injury in the clash, playing the first half and looking impressive in his first game back, which will no doubt have piqued Andy Farrell’s interest ahead of the Scotland game in two weeks’ time.

Indeed, if there were any fears over Stockdale’s knee before kick-off, he quickly allayed them when he soared highest to take an early Cooney box-kick off the kick-off before shipping a double hit but bouncing straight back up.

But after the winger’s dream start, Ulster’s own opening few minutes turned into something from their worst nightmares as Rhys Webb managed to charge down a kick from Ian Madigan just outside the Ulster 22, and he then had the presence of mind to hack through for Keelan Giles to dot down for the opening try inside two minutes.

For a long time that looked like it would be the one and only talking point of the opening period, with the Ospreys happy to monopolise possession and Ulster seemingly incapable of holding onto the ball for more than a couple of phases at a time, their usually clinical attack surprisingly lacklustre and incohesive.

But, just when it looked like Ulster would be kept scoreless at home for 40 minutes, they got a major stroke of luck.

Attacking just outside the Ulster 22, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler tried to stab a kick in behind that bounced off the heel of Madigan into the waiting clutches of Nick Timoney and the No.8 hared from one 22 to the other before feeding the supporting Cooney to take it the rest of the way under the posts.

Stockdale’s night ended at the interval, the winger replaced by another returning player, Robert Baloucoune, and the replacement was busy early as the hosts tried to shake off their tepid first half display and take full points from the tie.

Andrew got them off to the perfect start in that regard, powering over from the back of a maul after Cooney turned down a surefire three points in favour of going for the corner to get their second score instead, their aggressive decision making paying off.

And when Ospreys full-back Dan Evans was sin binned shortly after the hour for a deliberate knock-on as Rob Lyttle tried to find Baloucoune, a quick check with the TMO determined that the latter would have strolled over but for the Welshman’s intervention and referee Sean Gallagher went under the posts.

However, despite their numerical advantage and with just under 20 minutes left on the clock, Ulster were left frustrated for a second consecutive week as they couldn’t find that killer try that would really ramp up the heat on Leinster in the Conference table.

They thought they had it when Lyttle stepped his man and dived over spectacularly with less than three minutes to go on the clock, only this time the TMO turned from friend to foe, spotting a forward pass in the build-up and ruling out the try, leaving an air of deflation around Belfast at the full-time whistle.

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The scorers

For Ulster
Tries: Cooney, Andrew, Penalty
Cons: Cooney (2), Penalty

For Ospreys
Try: Giles
Con: Myler

ULSTER RUGBY
(15-9) Michael Lowry; Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Robert Baloucoune 40); Ian Madigan (Matt Faddes 70), John Cooney (Alby Mathewson 59); (1-8) Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 51), John Andrew (Adam McBurney 63), Marty Moore (Ross Kane 51); Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell (Cormac Izuchukwu 63); Greg Jones (Sean Reidy 51), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.

OSPREYS
(15-9) Dan Evans; Keelan Giles, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler (Joe Hawkins 73), Keiran Williams, Luke Morgan (Shaun Venter 40); Stephen Myler (Luke Price 80), Rhys Webb; (1-8) Gareth Thomas (Nicky Smith 59), Sam Parry (Ifan Phillips 51), Tom Botha (Ma’afu Fia 63); Lloyd Ashley, Rhys Davies; Will Griffiths, Olly Cracknell (Sam Cross 46), Morgan Morris (Gareth Evans 67).
Yellow card: Dan Evans (63′)

Man of the Match: Nick Timoney (Ulster)

Referee: Seán Gallagher (IRFU)

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