The Ospreys suffered Super Saturday disappointment, going down to Ulster at the Liberty Stadium in a high scoring encounter.
They ran in four tries, Dan Biggar and Josh Matavesi both touching down in the first half and Tom Grabham scoring a second half double, but it was to no avail as their opponents ran in six tries of their own to secure their play-off spot.
The Ospreys went into the game knowing they needed a win to have any hope of securing a Champions Cup spot for next season, preferably with a try bonus, while relying on results elsewhere to go their way.
An early half break from Sam Underhill took the Ospreys deep into Ulster territory with Dan Biggar up on his shoulder. The fly half took it into the 22 but, with men over on the inside he took the wrong option, flicking it the other way where there were no Ospreys shirts and the ball went to ground, allowing Ulster to clear.
With the Ospreys needing the win, and preferably with tries, their attacking intent was clear from the start, ignoring two kickable penalties, first to go to the corner without reward, and then, on 11 minutes, opting for a scrum 5m out. A solid platform allowed James King to pick up at the base and go for the line and, after he was stopped just short, quick recycling allowed Biggar a simple run in under the posts for a score he converted himself.
Ulster hit back just five minutes later, like the Ospreys using the scrum as an attacking platform following a knock-on 20m out. Jared Payne drifted through a gap in the defensive line before slipping it inside to Paddy Jackson for the score, Ulster’s 10 picking himself to add the extras and level things up.
It was from another scrum, this time out wide on their right, that Ulster took the lead in the 27th minute, quick ball out and efficient work at the breakdown eventually seeing skipper Rory Best sidestepping Rory Thornton with ease to score, Jackson again converting.
It was an entertaining affair and the next try went the way of the Ospreys. With the hosts starting to build some pressure and the Ulster penalty count mounting, a quick tap and go from Rhys Webb had the visitors retreating. First Sam Underhill and then Webb himself were stopped short on the right before it was worked back across field where Matavesi was able to ignore an overlap and glide between Best and Callum Black over to score, Biggar’s conversion leveling things once again four minutes before the break.
There was still time for Ulster to retake the lead, in the most heartbreaking of fashions for the Ospreys, Andrew Trimble’s hopeful upfield punt looking straightforward enough for Webb to collect but it took an awful bounce that left the scrum half grasping at air as Trimble himself raced through to collect the loose ball, beating the cover to go over for Ulster’s third. Jackson’s conversion went over via the far post and Ulster led by seven at the break.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 14 ULSTER 21
Having not conceded a penalty all first half, to Ulster’s 10, an Ospreys offence within a minute of the restart allowed Jackson to stretch his team’s lead to 10 points.
As the Ospreys searched for a way back a powerful break from Olly Cracknell, on for Dan Lydiate, took his team deep into Ulster territory but having got within inches Webb was turned over on the line, allowing the visitors to clear.
Ulster broke upfield at pace and there was controversy when Chris Henry dived on the ball at a ruck in goal, TMO Derek Bevan ruling try when the pictures appeared to show a side entry and a knock on. As Jackson stepped up to take the conversion, in stadium replays again showed the apparent knock on and Biggar intervened, imploring the referee Marius Mitrea to take another look at the incident. He agreed, but the result was the same, try Ulster and a bonus point.
Jackson converted, and almost straight after slotted over a long-range penalty, and the scoreline now made disappointing viewing, Ulster leading 34-14 with a little over quarter of the match to play.
One thing we know about this Ospreys team is they’ll never throw the towel in and try number three went their way in the 66th minutes, a lovely show and go from Sam Davies allowing him to break into acres of space deep inside the Ulster 22, before sending a looping pass out wide to Grabham who slid in for a score that went unconverted.
Any hopes of a dramatic late comeback were extinguished almost immediately as Stuart Olding raced over after taking the ball off Ruan Pienaar at the back of a scrum, shrugging off the tackle of Scott Otten, on as a replacement in the back row. Jackson’s conversion took Ulster past the 40 point mark.
Grabham was then bundled into touch just metres short after quick hands across the back line, and then, just two minutes later, the winger was in the right place to pounce on a loose ball after a spell of Ospreys pressure, Biggar converting.
Up the other end, the TMO confirmed a score for Franco Van Der Merwe after the big second row had taken advantage of a bouncing ball deep in the 22 to bundle his way over, the angle proving to much for Jackson on this occasion, which meant the scoreboard read 26-46, which was how it ended.