Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ulstermen tame the Ospreys

Ulster managed on Friday night what Leinster couldn’t all last season…Kristian Ross looks at how they did it.

Osp Uls Sep 2012

Ulster snatched a unlikely win against reigning PRO12 champions Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday night.

Ospreys went through the phases from kick off but were immediately penalised and Niall O'Connor was able to clear from the kick.

Ulster's first attack came from the lineout, Ryan Bevington's low kick was charged down, and the ball eventually found Michael Allen out on the wing following some good Ulster attacking, but he could only run into touch.

Ospreys were forced to clear from Fussell, the resulting lineout again saw Ulster go through the phases, but Ospreys defence held firm and were awarded the penalty that finally subsided the early pressure.  Ospreys started to push forward, a Rhys Webb up and under caught by Hanno Dirksen before Webb's knock on saw the attack come to an abrupt end.

Ospreys failed to make use of the ball in the Ulster half as an Ulster penalty was awarded for offside, however again the referee needed an equipment change as for the second time the ball seemed to be too flat.   Niall O'Connor's penalty made sure the next few passages of play were played in the Ospreys 22. The opening 10 minutes had like the Glasgow game a week before proved cagey.

As the game moved towards the 15 minute mark referee Neil Patterson was started to get frustrated with Ulster players leaving their feet, first it had been Jared Payne, then Mike McComish.   Ulster started to press, but poor passing saw them driven back towards the halfway line, before Niall O'Connor's kick was found by Richard Fussell, who spotted a gap and sent a lovely kick as play moved back toward the Ulster half.

Ulster were unable to get rid from the lineout, Ospreys won the ball and inevitably went through the phases before O'Connor was able to clear.   With the first quarter of the game over and still no score, the first chance of the game came when Tom Isaacs was called for offside following a line out, and Niall O'Connor was able to have the first kick at the sticks. However like Glasgow last week, he was unable to find the target pushing his kick narrowly wide.

Hanno Dirksen could probably hardly believe his luck a few minutes later the ball breaking nicely for him following a line out in the Ulster half following before a nifty run saw him get in for the first score of the game, that was easily coverted by Matthew Morgan to give the Welsh side a 7-0 lead.   Ulster finally got some luck with half an hour gone when Justin Tipuric was penalised allowing Niall O'Connor to go for goal from 49m, a fantastic kick that sailed through, reducing the deficit to four points.

With a few minutes left until the first half ended, both teams exchanged possession, before Ulster were awarded a penalty for holding on, allowing them to have the final chance of the first half. Niall O'Connor must have been feeling confident following the last kick from distance, this one inside the Ulster half at 55m. O'Connor was able to convert, and the referee called time on what had been in my opinion, a poor first half from Ulster.

Following the half time interval, Tom Court was brought on for Callum Black at prop, with Paul Marshall at scrum half for Michael Heaney, Anscombe clearly deciding changes would need to be made if Ulster had any chance of winning this.
Early Ulster pressure at the start of the second half saw the men in white get a penalty following infringements on the ground, Niall O'Connor's 46m kick would have given Ulster a very good start to the half indeed, but for the third time in the match he could only put it wide.

An Ospreys scrum in the middle that Ulster never seemed in control of, finally saw Declan Fitzpatrick penalised and Matthew Morgan increased the Swansea based team's advantage back to seven points, and Ulster now realised they had work to do.

Declan Fitzpatrick was replaced with John Afoa, and Nigel Brady replaced Rob Herring as the Ulster front row was now changed completely.

Ulster again were penalised following a lineout this time for not binding properly, and Matthew Morgan put the Ospreys further in front with a good kick from the touchline. 13-3.  Ulster again felt the need for change, Andrew Trimble on for Luke Marshall, Stephen Ferris on for Sean Doyle, and Paddy Jackson for Niall O'Connor.

Needless to say, Paddy Jackson was called into action immediately following the Ospreys being penalised at the scrum, and his 45m kick was superb, a first effort that he made look easy. Ulster were back within a converted try.  As Ospreys attacked the Ulster half, Hanno Dirksen was again causing problems down on the wing however he was a judged to have been in touch.

Andrew Trimble was then called for taking out Dirksen before he had the ball leading to Matthew Morgan having another shot at the uprights but this time the Welshman it was pulled wide. Ulster had been let off.  With twenty minutes to go, both teams knew the next score was vital.

Neil McComb replaced Lewis Stephenson, as Ulster need something to give them a platform to go on. Finally they got it when an Ospreys scrum that had been reset many a time turned and Ulster had the put in. And it got even better when a penalty was awarded for Ulster at the scrum. Paddy Jackson had the chance to get Ulster back within just four points. And after a great first kick, the 20 year old had no problem getting another three points.

Ospreys started to attack Ulster very well following the restart, and with the crowd behind them, a try would probably win it with 10 minutes left. And after 11 phases a weak Dan Biggar drop goal attempt gave possession back to the Ulstermen.

Ulster had been let off, and the last ten minutes were going to prove interesting indeed. Ulster were pushing, scrums in the Ospreys half, the big guns were on, the Irish chance had a side of winning it.  A superb run by Craig Gilroy in the Ospreys saw Neil McComb through, on and on he went before the ball moved wide to the wing before finally coming back across for John Afoa, who was ajudged to have been short, but the follow up from Paul Marshall was over, the TMO agreeing, Ulster were ahead for the first time in the game. The superb fighting spirit had worked, and Paddy Jackson slotted over a tough kick to give Ulster a three point advantage.

The game clock started to tick down and as the ball found the corner of the Ospreys 22, a knock on from Ulster ensure that Ospreys would have the ball before Ulster were awarded a penalty. The ball out into touch, Paddy Jackson had given Ulster the ball with a minute left before it was surrendered again via a penalty.

The Welsh side had the ball, but had to score from 100m and when the ball finally ended up going forward and Ulster grabbed the ball, Paul Marshall was able to end the jinx from last year kicking into touch to give Ulster a win that at times never looked on the cards.

Looking forward to next week against provincial rivals Munster, Anscombe will look for a lot of improvement. For large periods of the game Ulster looked poor, and were almost made to pay the price. Anscombe will however take the scrappy win, and will be pleased as Nick Williams was a great influence again, being awarded man of the match. He will also take heart that once the more experienced players came on Ulster stepped up a gear. However he should start Paddy Jackson against Munster rather than Niall O'Connor who's place kicking again wasn't great, whereas Jackson looked cool under pressure slotting kicks with minimal fuss.

It's two from two for last years Heineken Cup finalists, but Munster will produce a stern test in fixture number three. But with a Ravenhill crowd that also will Stand Up For The Ulstermen, the question remains ? Will it be three from three come Friday night. We shall see......

I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

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