Clumsy Ulster hand rampant Ospreys top spot
Ospreys 31 Ulster 20
Ulster were left to count the cost of six days in Wales that could prove costly to their domestic and European ambitions. Having seen their Champions Cup hopes ended at Scarlets, they not only missed the chance to top the Guinness Pro12 but suffered a defeat that saw Ospreys summit the table instead.
Rob Herring and Tommy Bowe crossed in the final quarter to soften the blow, but it was too late to compensate for an error-strewn display. The late flurry hinted at a losing bonus point, or perhaps more, but Neil Doak's side left empty-handed and with just one away win since May.
The early signs at the Liberty Stadium were not promising, and Biggar was allowed to kick Ospreys ahead inside three minutes. Ulster's forwards showed ambition, with Rory Best pulling the strings, but they were let down when Humphreys and Ruan Pienaar missed touch with penalties. It gifted territorial advantage to the hosts, and they made it count, attacking Neil Doak's decision to rest Craig Gilroy. Michael Allen started instead, but Ospreys found space easily on the replacement's flank.
Allen missed the first tackle on Eli Walker, who launched a counter-attack finished by Biggar. Pienaar and Best prevented further scores until Webb touched down three minutes before the break for a deserved second try. Humphreys then saw his score scrubbed out following two reviews. It neatly summed up Ulster's half.
No doubt there were some harsh words in the dressing room during the break, and Ulster restarted with greater purpose, earning Humphreys a second penalty. But handling errors and lapses proved decisive. They also suffered at the hands of the video official again. Josh Matavesi surged through a dog-leg in the white line. Ulster believed they had cornered Walker, but his pass was ruled to have come off a white jersey and Webb was awarded his second try.
Humphreys, Allen and Ross then failed to halt Dirksen when the South African-born wing surged off his line from a scrum close to the try line for a bonus point.
Trailing 31-6, Doak threw caution to the wind by introducing his replacements, and it galvanised his team. Herring finished a lineout that heightened his team's frustration at those earlier missed kicks. It appeared a scant consolation, but when Bowe stormed off his wing onto Marshall's pass to cap his first return to the Liberty Stadium since leaving the Ospreys with a try, Ulster briefly believed. But the damage had been done.
Scorers: Ospreys: D Biggar try, R Webb 2 tries, H Dirksen try; D Biggar 4 cons; D Biggar pen. Ulster: R Herring try, T Bowe try; I Humphreys 2 cons; I Humphreys 2 pens.
Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, A Beck (A Bishop, 63), J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb (M Roberts, 56); M Thomas (G Thomas, 67), S Baldwin (S Parry, 56), D Arhip, R Bernardo (D Lydiate, 50), AW Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, T Ardron, J Tipuric.
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, D Cave (P Nelson, 63), L Marshall (S Olding, 63), M Allen; I Humphreys, R Pienaar (P Marshall, H-T); A Warwick (C Black, 69), R Best (capt, R Herring, 57), D Fitzpatrick (B Ross, 69); D Tuohy, F vd Merwe (A O'Connor, 56), R Diack (S Reidy, 50), R Wilson, C Ross.
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU).
Sunday Indo Sport