Ulster will be playing in next season’s Champions Cup after a brace from Craig Gilroy helped them defeat the Ospreys 35-12 in their Champions Cup play-off at Kingspan Stadium.
he winger crossed twice for the hosts, who salvage something from an entirely forgettable season, while they also got the chance to say goodbye to some of their departing players.
After Dan Biggar had missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors, striking a penalty from right in front against the right hand upright, captain Alun Wyn Jones did break the deadlock on the quarter hour mark.
The Welsh side powered a maul right to the line, with Ulster doing superbly to stop it short, however they were powerless to stop Jones from picking and driving over.
John Cooney then got the hosts on the board, putting over a penalty, whereas Biggar was again off target when he clattered the other post with a long range effort following some scrum dominance from the Ospreys.
But Ulster led at the break when Luke Marshall stabbed a kick into the in-goal area for Craig Gilroy to run onto, and the winger finished in the corner despite a lack of space.
And Gilroy went over again just two minutes into the second half, the ball lost forward in midfield by the Ospreys and the Ulster flier racing onto the hack through first, controlling with his foot before dotting down in the corner.
The Irish province then added a third score not long after that, forcing the visitors into giving away a five metre scrum and, after creating the space out wide, lock Kieran Treadwell barrelled over the line for the seven-pointer.
However, Ulster had to cope with another big injury loss as centre Luke Marshall had to be carted off on a stretcher, and then the visitors replied with a try of their own as winger Jeff Hassler powered over in the corner.
But any chance of an Ospreys comeback was nipped in the bud when Cooney slotted two more penalties, before Jacob Stockdale made absolute sure of the result by picking off a pass from James Hook and racing under the posts for the try.
Biggar did get over for a consolation try for the visitors a minute from time, but it failed to put any kind of a dampener on the celebrations at the final whistle as Ulster secured their place at the top table of European rugby.
Tries: Gilroy (2), Treadwell, Stockdale
Cons: Cooney (3)
Pens: Cooney (3)
Tries: AW Jones, Hassler, Biggar
(15-9) Louis Ludik (David Busby 19), Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall (Darren Cave 57), Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney (Dave Shanahan 76); (1-8) Callum Black (Andy Warwick 24), Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Robbie Diack (Chris Henry 63), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney (John Andrew 73).
Subs not used: Rodney Ah You, Jack Regan.
(15-9) Sam Davies, Jeff Hassler, Ashley Beck, Owen Watkin (James Hook 54), Hanno Dirksen (Cory Allen 47), Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield (Matthew Aubrey 54); (1-8) Nicky Smith (Rhodri Jones 54), Scott Otten (Ifan Phillips 71), Dimitri Arhip (Ma’afu Fia 54), Bradley Davies (Adam Beard 71), Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate (Sam Cross 50), Justin Tipuric, James King.
Man of the Match: John Cooney (Ulster)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)