The Ospreys moved up into second place in the Magners League after a bonus point victory at Ravenhill tonight.
An early try from Shane Williams was followed by a brace from James Hook, before Tommy Bowe secured the extra point with a try right at the death as the Ospreys put themselves firmly in contention for a place in the end of season play-offs with just three games to go.
The Ospreys sent out out a strong team showing three changes from Saturday, with Sonny Parker, Ian Gough and Ryan Bevington, the only uncapped player in the starting XV, coming in for Andrew Bishop, Alun Wyn Jones and Paul James.
After a scrappy opening period that saw both sides repeatedly coughing up possession, it was the home team that was handed the chance to open the scoring when Lee Byrne was penalised for not rolling away, but Niall O'Connor's screwed his penalty from just outside the 22 horribly wide to the left.
Ulster kept up the early pressure though, and after being awarded a scrum five, proceeded to turn the screw, and after referee Neil Patterson had spoken to the front rows on two occasions he finally blew for a penalty against the Ospreys for bringing the scum down, O'Connor making no mistake this time, putting his team ahead with ten minutes gone.
The Ospreys responded positively, and with Ryan Jones providing quick ball from the back of a scrum on halfway, the backs were able to combine well, going left first before going back the other way. With the cover coming across, Byrne's clever chip to the corner was patted back in field by Sonny Parker for Jerry Collins who crossed the line but was prevented from grounding. From the resulting scrum though, the ball was worked out wide to Williams who scored in the corner despite the best efforts of Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace. Dan Biggar's conversion attempt from the touchline struck the upright to leave the score at 5-3 to the Ospreys.
It wasn't long before the hosts retook the lead though, O'Connor scoring his second penalty, a simple effort from a central position on the 22, after the Ospreys went off their feet at the ruck.
Ulster scored again when Simon Danielli went over for five points. It came after a period of intense Ospreys pressure, with Collins and Marty Holah prominent as the men in black inched their way closer to the line. However, the ball was turned over and spotting the lack of cover on the wing, were able to clear. Byrne retreated to clear as far as halfway, but Ulster came straight back at them, Rory Best with the offload that allowed Danielli to score. Confusion then reigned as O'Connor's conversion attempt appeared to miss, only for one touch judge to raise his flag to indicate the score. After a quick check with the TMO though, Mr Patterson confirmed the miss, leaving the score 11-5.
The Ospreys struck back instantly, Ian Gough securing good ball at the back of the line-out, allowing his side to break quickly, and it was Hook who went through the gap, handing off Wallace strongly as he went over. With Biggar successfully converting, the Ospreys were back in front.
A thumping tackle by Byrne on Darren Cave as he gathered a cross kick from O'Connor, preventing what had looked a certain score. Some fierce defensive work and counter rucking then prevented Ulster from scoring as they inched the ball forward through a series of pick and drives, Collins doing great scavenging work to turn it over. Williams' clearance took a deflection, Holah tidied up, passed to Adam Jones who put through a lovely little grubber for Tommy Bowe to chase, but Ian Whitten won the race for Ulster.
Just as it looked as though the Ospreys would go in with the narrowest of leads, Ulster finally found a way through. With a number of massive hits going in in midfield, they were able to work it wide to Trimble, whose neat sidestep infield took him away from the cover and allowed him to score. O'Connor added the extras to make the score 18-12 to the home side at half-time.
HALF TIME: ULSTER 18 OSPREYS 12
Biggar was able to reduce the deficit straight from the off, the Ospreys being awarded a penalty on the 22, and he repeated the trick to level the scores with 47 minutes on the clock from slightly further out after Ulster were caught offside. It was O'Connor's turn next as the game lost its flow and became stop-start, but he pulled his penalty attempt to the right.
It got better for the Ospreys when Hook grabbed his second try of the night with 53 minutes on the clock. The centre showed good vision to read O'Connor's attempted clearance, charging it down and racing through to gather the lose ball and score under the posts, Biggar's conversion making it 25-18.
O'Connor was able to reduce the deficit to four points with a penalty after the Ospreys strayed offside at a ruck. Alun Wyn Jones, on as a replacement for Jonathan Thomas, was then pinged for coming in from the side as Ulster looked to up the tempo, O'Connor again successful with the kick to bring his side to within a point of the Ospreys as the game moved into the final quarter. As the pressure mounted, Gough sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes for an indiscretion in the maul area as Ulster rumbled forward, O'Connor making the Ospreys pay the full price as his seventh successful kick of the night put his side back in front.
The lead changed hands once again in the 71st minute, Biggar scoring a penalty after Ulster were caught coming in from the side as the 14 man Ospreys rallied. The young fly-half was successful once again just a couple of minutes later after the hosts were penalised for crossing.
The game was on a knife edge, and with Ulster pushing forward the Ravenhill crowd was making itself heard as they urged their side forward. Awarded a penalty with four minutes remaining they opted to kick to the corner, only to cough up possession as they looked to drive forward.
It was to prove a costly decision as soon the Ospreys, back up to 15, were up the other end of the field as Adam Jones pounced on a loose pass to punt the ball forward allowing Bowe to race through and mark his Ravenhill return with the fourth Ospreys try of the night, Biggar's conversion sealing a good evening for the region that secured their place in next season's Heineken Cup.