Friday 22 September 2017

Biggar is better as Ulster crash

Ospreys swoop to pile on the pain

Niall Crozier

A GREAT first-half display by Ulster degenerated into a post-interval collapse.

Ospreys outscored them though that is but part of the story. Once again Ulster contributed much to their own downfall.

The seriousness with which Ospreys took the challenge was reflected in the strength of the personnel they fielded. A dozen of the black-shirted 15 who took to the pitch had been in the Ospreys' starting line-up for last weekend's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Biarritz to whom they lost an epic battle by a 29-28 margin.

The wounds, both psychological and physical, were still raw and the Welsh were anxious to exorcise the ghost of San Sebastian.

They had further motivation, too, for with Ulster having beaten them at the Liberty Stadium back in September, thereby avenging the 43-0 drubbing inflicted upon them by Ospreys 12 months earlier in Swansea -- this Province's worst ever Magners League defeat -- clearly there was a record of significant results.

It was a fired up Ulster who underlined their initial intensity by taking the lead through a ninth minute penalty by Niall O'Connor.

Ulster were impressive in much of what they did. Paddy Wallace's ability to create from deep was a plus, as was Robbie Diack's carrying. O'Connor's out of hand kicking kept his side moving forward, too, though once or twice lax passing put his side under pressure.

One worried that Ulster errors might be punished by the big name guests as indeed they were when a slack pass by Isaac Boss led to a passage which ultimately saw Shane Williams getting over in the left corner. Dan Biggar's conversion attempt came back off the far post but Ospreys led 5-3.

Ulster rallied, knuckled down anew and began to play some fine football. Diack was immense and Botha's work-rate was highly impressive.

A second O'Connor penalty restored the lead and that was followed by a great home try when Boss, Ed O'Donoghue and Best joined forces to put Simon Danielli away for a score. There was confusion as to whether or not O'Connor's conversion was good, the delayed verdict being that it had not. Still, 11-5 up, largely on the front foot and taking the game to the Ospreys.

An ability do damage their own cause came back to haunt them, with a Boss mistake leading to Biggar's clever chip being caught by James Hook at full tilt and in he went under the posts, leaving Biggar to convert and make the score 12-11 in their favour.

Trimble scored a richly deserved try on the stroke of half-time and by so doing underlining the importance of Ian Whitten's defensive contribution in dealing with a hack on by Adam Jones following another turn over.

Ulster went in 18-12 up, though that interval lead was promptly wiped out by a brace of Biggar penalties and a Hook try to which the kicker added the bonus.

Having led 18-12 they found themselves 25-18 down with Ospreys having found some of the passion they had been lacking in the first period.

Back came Ulster, with O'Connor landing a trio of penalties.

Leading 27-25 against 14 men with 13 minutes remaining, Ulster appeared to be in the driving seat.

Not so. Two more Biggar penalties turned the tables for the man-short team and when Adam Jones booted a ball through former Ravenhill favourite Tommy Bowe raced away to touch it down.

Inevitably Biggar converted and a night that had promised much ended in huge disappointment with many of the 7,649 on their way home before the final whistle.

ULSTER: Wallace, Trimble, Cave, Whitten, Danielli, O'Connor, Boss, Young,Best, Botha, O'Donoghue, Tuohy, Ferris, Henry (captain), Diack. Replacements: Kyriacou, Court, Caldwell, Pollock, Marshall, Humphreys, Spence.

OSPREYS:Byrne, Bowe, Parker, Hook, Williams, Biggar, Phillips, Bevington, Bennett, Adam Jones, Gough, Thomas, Collins, Holah, R Jones (captain). Replacements: Shervington, James, Alun Wyn Jones, Tiatia, Nutbrown, Bishop, Walker.

Referee: Neil Patterson (Scotland).

Source: Belfast Telegraph

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