It was a disappointing opening night for the Ospreys, who leave the Kingspan Stadium empty handed after a difficult night in Belfast.
They trailed from the sixth minute as Ulster clinically ran in four tries, with two first half Sam Davies penalties all they had to show for their efforts.
The possession stats at the final whistle were heavily in the Ospreys favour but it’s the scoreboard that counts and that told a sorry story.
After a lively opening it was the hosts who opened the scoring, skipper Rob Herring with the first try of the night. It came after a good line break by Willie Faloon, who took the ball off Nick Williams before being hauled down a couple of metres out by Kristian Phillips and Dan Evans. It was recycled quickly and there was no stopping the Ulster hooker from close range.
Stuart McCloskey was off target with what looked a simple conversion, but he made no mistake three minutes later with a penalty from in front of the posts, Jonathan Spratt blocking Paul Marshall off the ball.
Playing into the wind and rain the Ospreys were having to work hard for every metre gained, against a physical Ulster defence, but they got their side of the scoreboard moving at the start of the second quarter, Davies’ penalty going over off the post after Wiehahn Herbst was pinged at the first scrum of the evening.
Ulster then grabbed their second try, working the ball upfield from inside their own half for a score that wouldn’t have pleased the Ospreys’ coaches.
Taking the high ball on his 10m line, Andrew Trimble was allowed to run the ball back far too easily, carrying 20m upfield before McCloskey barged his way through the cover up the right wing, carrying three players over the line as he grounded the ball for a score confirmed by the TMO.
The big centre then picked himself up to add the extras, taking his side 12 points clear.
Davies then slotted over his second successful penalty with five to go in the first half after Clive Ross took Joe Bearman out in the air at an Ospreys line-out in the Ulster 22.
HALF-TIME: ULSTER 15 OSPREYS 6
Ulster tight head Herbst received a final warning after being penalised at a third successive scrum right at the start of the second half. With the wind now at their backs, Davies went for the posts from half way but his kick was off target, inching to the left of the sticks.
However, the hosts pulled further ahead minutes later, Delve penalised for playing the ball on the floor, and McCloskey, whose line break from halfway had been the catalyst for the move was left with the simplest of kicks.
The home team were well on top at this point and the third try arrived on 53 minutes. From a penalty in the Ospreys 22, Ulster went for a lineout, and after the initial shunt was halted, Nick Williams peeled off, only to be stopped just short. However, there was no stopping Herbst as he twisted over from close range to score. McCloskey missed the conversion, but Ulster now led 23-6.
The Ospreys were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes just before the hour when Joe Bearman was sin-binned for what was adjudged a dangerous tackle on Luke Marshall.
It was all becoming very scrappy as Ulster looked to take advantage of the extra man, searching for a fourth try, with the Ospreys looking to spoil at every opportunity.
There was a further blow for the Ospreys when Ashley Beck was forced off the field within minutes of arriving off the bench for his long awaited return from a broken ankle, after what looked suspiciously like a high tackle from Trimble.
Despite being a man short the Ospreys were starting to look lively, the replacements from the bench giving the team more energy, and they should have grabbed their first try when both Dan Baker and Nicky Smith were held up close to the line. With an overlap available on the left the forwards kept it tight only for Baker to then knock on at the foot of the ruck.
The visitors’ night was summed up when, after being awarded the penalty at the resulting scrum, they opted to reset, only to see the ball squirm out on the Ulster side, allowing the home to clear.
That was followed by a lengthy period of play that saw the Ospreys go through almost 30 phases deep inside Ulster territory, but it was always slow ball and they never looked like breaking the defensive line.
The final say went to the home team, a counter attack in the final minute seeing them grab the bonus point with their fourth try, Marshall rounding off the move in the corner after some good work by John Andrew. Man of the match McCloskey was off target with the conversion attempt, but it was a disappointing night for the men in black