The curtain came down on a frustrating season in disappointing fashion as the Ospreys were well beaten at Kingspan Stadium, missing out on the final spot in next season’s Champions Cup.
They started brightly enough, taking the lead after quarter of an hour, a lead they held for 20 minutes, only to be blown away by a flurry of tries either side of the interval.
Alun Wyn Jones opened the scoring for the Ospreys and there were late scores from Jeff Hassler and Dan Biggar, the outside half becoming the all time record points scorer in the Championship on his final game for the Region, despite enduring a torrid afternoon from the tee.
The hosts were forced into a late reshuffle ahead of kick-off, losing Charles Piutau and Ross Kane to injuries in the warm-up, Craig Gilroy and Tom O’Toole coming into the starting XV off the bench.
There was an early sight of the posts for Biggar but his penalty kick from 40m in the fifth minute struck the right upright.
The Ospreys were enjoying the better of the opening exchanges, with nothing on the scoreboard to show for it, but they eventually got their reward with the game’s opening try 15 minutes in.
A penalty at the breakdown on the Ospreys 10m line allowed Biggar to put his team up into the corner, the pack rumbling forward from the resulting lineout.
They thought they’d got the ball down from the initial drive but the referee said no. There was no doubt seconds later though when the skipper drove his way over from close range, Biggar adding the extras.
Despite the Ospreys being on top, a penalty against Scott Otten for not rolling away handed Ulster their first shot at goal. John Cooney made no mistake and with 27 minutes played the scoreboard read 3-7.
Looking to respond immediately, a penalty at the scrum saw Biggar having a go from 42m out right. Never looking the cleanest of strikes, his kick had the distance but, this time, came back off the left hand post.
Despite having barely ventured into Ospreys territory up to this point, Ulster snatched the lead five minutes from the break. With a penalty advantage in their favour the hosts were stretching their opponents defensive line and when Hanno Dirksen came infield off his wing Luke Marshall spotted the space out wide and put a perfectly weighted kick through for Gilroy to finish acrobatically. Cooney’s conversion attempt from the touchline was always drifting wide of the near post.
HALF-TIME: ULSTER 8-7 OSPREYS
Ulster drew first blood after the break, Gilroy with his second try of the match within 90 seconds of the restart.
It came as the Ospreys were looking to build an attack from a scrum on halfway, Sam Davies’s inside pass being read by Cooney, who snaffled possession.
With acres of space behind the ball was kicked long and the Ulster wing won the race with Biggar, the TMO only needing a cursory glance to confirm the score. Cooney made no mistake with his touchline kick and the Ospreys were now trailing by eight.
The Ospreys then found themselves under pressure all of their own making, getting themselves in trouble behind their own line dealing with a quick lineout, Cory Allen eventually having to conceded the scrum five.
Ulster took full advantage, turning the screw, and several phases later it was big second row Kieran Treadwell who was unstoppable from close range. Cooney added the extras to take the score to 22-7.
The Ospreys weren’t going to throw the towel in and a lovely half break from Sam Cross almost saw him get away, before the ball was moved wide to James Hook who went for the line only to bundled into touch by three Ulster defenders half a metre out.
Try two for the Ospreys came in the 61st minute, Hassler hugging the touchline where he received the ball from Hook, barging his way over to score despite the attentions of Jacob Stockdale, the TMO confirming the grounding.
Biggar then missed his third kick, the conversion never looking like finding the target.
The Ospreys were their worst enemies when they failed to exit the restart successfully, the ball being knocked on in the 22. From the resulting scrum Ulster pressed, winning a simple penalty under the posts, and Cooney stretched the lead to 13 points, the score now 25-12.
Then, with 71 minutes played, Cooney sent over a long range kick from close to halfway, taking his team more than two converted scores clear.
The Ospreys continued pressing and Hook looked to free Hassler on halfway, only for his pass to be picked off by Stockdale, who raced clear to score under posts, man of the match Cooney adding the extras.
It was over as a contest but the final word went to Biggar, who was at the end of possibly the Ospreys’ best move of the game, the forwards gaining the hard yards before Beck supplied the final pass to his outside half who dived over for the record breaking score – his quick drop goal conversion attempt seeing him hit the woodwork for a third time, summing up an afternoon to forget for the Ospreys who will now play in the Challenge Cup next season.