Ospreys moved to the top of the Guinness PRO12 table on Saturday as they beat Ulster 31-20 with a try bonus-point at the Liberty Stadium.
Dan Biggar also contributed to this Ospreys’ victory, scoring a try of his own, as well as a penalty and four conversions.
Ulster replied with tries from Irish internationals Tommy Bowe and Rob Herring, but were second best throughout this encounter.
This match was all about the mightily impressive Ospreys, who delivered a sublime effort that, sends them to the summit of the PRO12.
It was the hosts that started more brightly, playing a high tempo brand of rugby in the opening few minutes. The fluidity was complemented by a relentless physicality, and their determined approach earned the first points of the evening on the three minute mark. Ulster number eight Roger Wilson took the ball into contact in the Ospreys’ 22, and the home back row immediately swarmed on him, forcing a penalty for not releasing. Biggar landed the resultant kick to give his side a 3-0 lead.
The Welsh region was certainly having the better of it, but they were aided by Ulster’s profligacy as demonstrated by fly-half Humphreys failing to find touch from an eight minute penalty. Furthermore the Ospreys seemed to be ascendant at scrum time, with Ulster’s travails continuing from last week. In this regard, Ospreys’ loosehead Marc Thomas was particularly impressive.
Nevertheless Ulster restored parity on 14 minutes when Humphreys successfully slotted an impressive penalty. The scoreboard scarcely reflected the Ospreys’ dominance, but Ulster won’t have minded.
But the inevitable happened on 17 minutes as the home side ruthlessly hammered home its advantage. Dan Evans took the ball off a scrum, and fed Alun Wyn-Jones who had cut a lovely angle. From there, the skipper managed to find prop Thomas, who deftly offloaded to Biggar to touch down under the posts. The fly-half converted his own effort to make it 10-3.
It was all the Ospreys then, but Ulster settled down a bit thereafter as Declan Fitzpatrick started to regain some control in the scrum.
But the supremacy of the Welsh side was not affected, as they seized control with their classy offloading and running game.
The hosts’ advantage was copper fastened on 36 minutes when they scored their second try. The home team went through multiple phases in Ulster’s 22 before lock Rynier Bernardo spotted a gap, and put scrum-half Webb under the posts. Biggar successfully converted to make it 17-3.
The visitors were under all sorts of pressure at this stage, and were struggling to attain any sort of momentum. They seemed to have regained a foothold on 38 minutes when Humphreys scurried over the line after the Ospreys had knocked on in an attempt to run the ball out of their 22, and Ulster’s fly-half made full use of Neil Paterson’s advantage.
The try seemed to have been awarded, but was subsequently ruled out (and correctly so) after the TMO confirmed an earlier knock on that that had been missed by the referee. It was a frustrating end to the half for Ulster, but there is no doubt that the hosts were magnificent during the opening period.
The second half began with Ulster playing catch up, therefore, and it was the visitors who scored first when Humphreys slotted a 42 minute penalty after Ospreys’ prop Dmitri Arhip was penalised in the scrum. Despite this, the Ospreys remained firmly in control, and it wasn’t long before normal service was resumed from the first half.
On the 47 minute mark Eli Walker made a barnstorming run down the left flank. The Ospreys’ wing seemed to have been bundled into touch, but successfully kept the ball in play; before unleashing it to Justin Tuipric, who successfully put Webb over for his second try. Ulster complained of a knock on, and the matter was again referred to the TMO, but Tim Hayes decreed that the try was okay. And when Biggar converted, the hosts had amassed a commanding 24-6 advantage.
The mission was now damage limitation for Ulster, but the Ospreys were in no mood to take the foot off the gas. By 56 minutes the rout was already complete as winger Hanno Dirksen bulldozed over for the bonus point try. Biggar converted to make it a mammoth 31-6.
The hosts were guilty of taking their eye off the ball thereafter, and they allowed Ulster to regain some momentum. Thus on 59 minutes, a well-executed rolling maul from the visitors saw Herring score Ulster’s first try of the contest. Humphreys converted to cut the deficit to 31-13.
A comeback seemed highly unlikely, but the visitors now had a sniff of opportunity. And they clawed the lead back further on 68 minutes when Bowe picked a lovely line off a Humphreys pass to score under the posts. Ulster’s fly-half landed his conversion to cut the lead to nine points.
It was hard to tell whether Ulster had found their rhythm, or whether the hosts had simply dipped in intensity. In truth, it was probably a combination of both. But for all their endeavour, the visitors couldn’t find a way back. There can be little doubt that the Ospreys deserved maximum points here. The hosts were mesmerising at times in a victory that catapults them to the summit of the PRO12.
Tries: Biggar, Webb 2, Dirksen
Con: Biggar 4
Tries: Herring, Bowe
Con: Humphreys 2
Pen: Humphreys 2
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Tyler Aldron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Marc Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Gareth Thomas, 18 Daniel Suter, 19 Dan Lydiate, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Andrew Bishop.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Clive Ross, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Andrew Warwick.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Peter Nelson.
Referee: Neil Paterson
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Chris Williams
TMO: Tim Hayes
By Rory McGimpsey