Ulster maintain winning streak, but only just
Last minute Paddy Jackson penalty gets Ulster over the line at home to the Ospreys
Ulster’s Paddy Jackson leaves the pitch after the game. Photo: Darren Kidd/Inpho
Ulster 9 Ospreys 7
It was a pretty horrible game with Ulster only salvaging it in the last minute courtesy of Paddy Jackson to ensure their winning run stretched to all five games played and for that they were extremely thankful.
Les Kiss certainly won’t look back on this one fondly with his charges frequently being bossed off the ball at the breakdown and having to scramble on several occasions - with Louis Ludik and Jared Payne notable here - to prevent the Ospreys scoring more than just one try.
It also didn’t help that Jackson was also having a tricky evening from the tee with two penalty misses from five looking certain to cost Ulster dearly against a well organised if rather limited Ospreys side.
But, somehow, they came through with the sight of Tommy Bowe being sprung from the bench lifting the gloom around the Kingspan before referee Ben Whitehouse’s late and generous intervention gave Jackson the winning of this forgettable game.
The withdrawal of Iain Henderson prior to kick-off with an injured elbow didn’t help Ulster’s cause before a ball had been kicked - Robbie Diack coming in to the starting line-up - and the Ospreys were out of the blocks rapidly with Nicky Smith barging over from close range after just five minutes.
Dan Biggar landed a great conversion and the Welsh region were up and running.
Ulster responded by giving the impression they were rattled as Jackson was wide with a 21st minute penalty shot and then Ludik’s scoring pass to Darren Cave was too far in front of the centre for him to hold.
Still, Jackson did get Ulster going with his first successful kick of the evening two minutes before the half hour but Kiss’s men just couldn’t put anything together in what remained of the opening half.
Try as they did, there was no change out of the Ospreys’ defence with the Welsh region disrupting Ulster’s maul and destroying them in the tackle and the breakdown.
A perfect example came with four minutes remaining in the first half when, not for the first time, Ulster tried to launch Payne at pace through the middle only for Rory Best to get driven back and Paul Marshall to knock the ball on with Justin Tipuric in attendance.
The Ospreys were good for their 7-3 half-time lead meaning Ulster needed a quick response when things got going again.
And they got one after Josh Matavesi’s high tackle on Ludik just four minutes in with Jackson making no mistake and narrowing the Ospreys’ lead to one point.
They then had a golden chance to take the lead in the 49th minute only for Jackson to again hit the attempt wide.
Despite Ulster trying to turn the screw in the Ospreys’ half, they got nowhere and only a last-ditch tackle from Payne prevented Eli Walker from scoring a break-out try in the 65th minute.
Payne was then to the fore again shortly afterwards in disrupting the ball coming back on the Ospreys’ side after Baker drove up to the line and Ulster managed to escape without conceding as Biggar’s 70th minute drop goal went wide.
But still the Welsh came back and it took another last-ditch hit, this time from Ludik with six minutes left, to haul down Tom Habberfield short of making the right corner.
It looked like they couldn’t possibly prevail but the in the closing minutes Olly Cracknell was penalised - it seemed harshly - for not rolling away and Jackson this time did the needful.
Ulster: C Piutau, C Gilroy, J Payne, D Cave, L Ludik, P Jackson, P Marshall; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You, A O’Connor, F van der Merwe (capt), R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson. Replacements: C Ross for Wilson 52mins, R Pienaar for Marshall 55mins, C Black for McCall 57mins, R Kane for Ah You 59 mins, , T Bowe for Gilroy 59mins, K Treadwell for O’Connor 65mins, J Andrew for Best 68 mins. Not used B Herron
Ospreys: D Evans, J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, B Davies, A Wyn Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker. Replacements: T Habberfield for Hassler 38mins T Ardon for King 50mins, R Thornton for Davies 50mins, S Baldwin for Parry 56mins, M Fia for Arhip 57mins, P James for Smith 66 mins, O Cracknell for Baker 72mins, Arhip for Fia 72mins.
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU)