The Ospreys suffered late heartbreak at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Saturday night as PRO12 leaders Ulster struck with just two minutes remaining to clinch the win to maintain their 100% record
- Smith try and Biggar conversion put the Ospreys ahead inside the first six minutes
- Paddy Jackson kicks two penalties either side of half time to keep Ulster in touch before slotting over a third with at the death to pinch the win
- After having to settle for a losing bonus point the Ospreys now welcome Cardiff Blues to the Liberty Stadium on Friday night
It was particularly painful for the Ospreys who had led for 73 minutes, an enormous defensive effort seemingly securing them a fourth win in five games, only to have to settle for just a losing bonus point.
Nicky Smith had given the Ospreys an early lead with a close range score on his 50th appearance, Biggar converting, with Ulster’s points all coming from Paddy Jackson penalties.
It was Biggar who got the game underway and, it was the Ospreys who dominated the opening exchanges, the first six minutes played out exclusively in the Ulster half.
Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker and Dan Evans featured prominently in these opening minutes with strong carries, and it was an Evans grubber to the corner that, eventually, led to the opening try, the visitors going through a series of close range drives before Smith forced his way over from a metre out. Biggar made no mistake with the conversion and the Ospreys led by seven.
As the Ospreys continued to enjoy the better of things, it was only a last gasp tackle close to his own line from Charles Piutau that halted Matavesi’s progress after quick line out ball from the skipper had allowed Biggar to release the Fijian centre, running a great angle to cut through the Ulster defence on the 22m line.
As the game moved into the second quarter, Ulster were finally able to get some territory and possession, and their first points of the evening should have come with 23 minutes on the clock, the Ospeys penalised for an offside which gave Jackson a first sight of the posts. It looked straightforward enough but he pulled it short and it never looked like succeeding.
Ulster were enjoying this spell and, after Rodney Ah You had given them some go-forward, bulldozering Ben John out of the way, they struck with pace, swinging the ball right across the field from right to left where they had a man over in Darren Cave over. It looked certain to be a try but Jeff Hassler just managed to do enough, the Ulster centre knocking on as he looked to collect what would have been a scoring pass just five metres out.
Jackson had better luck with his second penalty, in the 29th minute following an Ospreys offence on the floor, splitting the posts from a little bit further out to get the Ulster side of the scoreboard moving.
In contrast to the opening quarter, the second was all being played at the Ospreys end but strong defence from the visitors saw Ulster being repeatedly frustrated and, largely, being kept outside of the 22 and out of striking range, to ensure the scoreboard remained unchanged as the sides headed down the tunnel at the break.
HALF-TIME: ULSTER 3 OSPREYS 7
A penalty against Matavesi for a high tackle on Louis Ludik allowed Jackson to reduce the deficit to a solitary point inside four minutes of the restart as Ulster looked to continue the second half as they’d finished the first, on the offensive.
Dan Baker was then penalised for holding on after he found himself isolated carrying out of his own 22 and it should really have led to Ulster edging ahead but Jackson’s radar was off once again, a very kickable three points going begging.
Ulster kept the pressure on, probing and pressing as they looked to pierce the Ospreys line but once again, Herculean defence was able to keep the hosts at bay, the hard work eventually rewarded with the scrum close to the line allowing Biggar to clear upfield.
An incredible period of play either side of the hour saw Ulster going through phase after phase, looking to find a way through, for more than five minutes, only for the Ospreys to stay patient and not only pushing their opponents back upfield, but eventually forced a knock on. That allowed a swift counter that saw Rhys Webb putting the ball behind the defence for Eli Walker to chase, the winger just failing to stay infield in the corner as he looked to take full advantage of the fantastic defensive work, Jared Payne with the crucial tackle.
Having been at the wrong end of the field for night on 50 minutes, the Ospreys were finally playing in the right area and Biggar attempted to stretch the lead with a drop goal effort that drifted harmlessly wide with 10 to play and just a point in it.
Then, inside the final 10 minutes, a lineout on the left gave the Ospreys platform to attack, the maul making good ground before the ball was spun the width of the pitch where Tom Habberfield pinned his ears back and went for the line. He was stopped just short but, as the Ospreys looked to make the ball secure they were penalised, supporting players going off their feet.
The final minutes promised a grandstand finish as the raucous Belfast crowd raised the volume and Ulster pushed for the crucial score but it seemed as though the visitors were going to hold on for a famous win. However, there was to be a final twist, referee Ben Whitehouse penalising Olly Cracknell in front of the posts for not rolling away, handing Jackson the simplest of kicks to win the game and break Ospreys hearts.