GUINNESS PRO12 OVERVIEW: Ulster off on the right foot

Ulster Luke Marshall    and Ospreys Tom Grabham
Ulster Luke Marshall and Ospreys Tom Grabham

The back-to-back pre-season defeats to Leinster and Edinburgh faded away rapidly on Friday night as Ulster produced a competent display as they opened their Guinness PRO12 campaign with a try-scoring bonus point win over Ospreys.

The fourth try may have come a minute from the end and had it not the home side would have been criticised for not pushing on from the third try when they went into a 23-6 lead after 53 minutes.

Head coach Neil Doak had called for a clinical edge to his side and, for the most, the team delivered by taking five points to sit top of the PRO12 table as a new season gets underway.

The coaching staff will review closely the scrum penalties conceded, probably the only concern they will have, although Ulster did give away three cheap penalties, two of which Ospreys outhalf Sam Davies slotted over.

Ulster were missing eight players in World Cup camps. There were able deputies in the starting XV but the preparations were hit during the week when outhalves Ian Humphreys and Sam Windsor were both ruled out with injuries.

That put the spotlight on Peter Nelson. Having played there with his club Dungannon and the Ulster Ravens frequently, he certainly ticked all the boxes when the selection was confirmed.

While the place kicking duties were taken off him for the evening - bar the final conversion of the evening - his general play was solid and he gave a robust display happy to make tackles when he needed to and kicked into the right areas of the park.

Rob Herring’s opening try came after a lovely build-up on five minutes. Lock Dan Tuohy had made ball available, Nick Williams showed lovely hands to put fellow backrow Willie Fallon away on a little canter.

Ulster’s prodigal son was pulled down close to the line, but the support was there and captain Herring crashed over.

Stuart McCloskey will not want to see the replay of his fluffed conversion attempt, but the eventual man of the match made amends on eight minutes when a penalty, from a similar spot on the ‘22’ put the hosts 8-0 ahead.

If there had been a few doubts about the Ulster defence in the pre-season games, when Ospreys threw everything at the home side, it was dealt with confidently and Joe Barakat’s work on winning ball at the collision in defence peeked through a few times.

McCloskey showed his full worth in scoring Ulster’s second try. The initial surge from winger Andrew Trimble obviously excited the crowd - although even if he was to drop a ball last night, he would still have been applauded.

His run created the chance for a try, McCloskey finishing off Williams and Nelson’s passes to mow down Ospreys scrumhalf Tom Habberfield, and then carry three more visitors over the line for a superb try.

He put the icing on the cake by drilling a superb touchline conversion over and Ulster had a 15-3 advantage as the half hour mark approached.

McCloskey kicked an early second half penalty and then had two surging bursts and it was off the second that Wiehahn Herbst was put in down the blindside after a lineout drive. The conversion was missed.

With a six-two split on the bench, Ulster were left stretched after using both back replacements when the lively Paul Marshall took a knock. Hooker John Andrew came on for the scrumhalf, and a minute from the end after a huge burst from Craig Gilroy across the pitch, replacement centre Sam Arnold took it on, Andrew received the pass and although it looked as though he had over cooked things - got the ball out to Luke Marshall and the bonus point try was sealed.

Nelson missed the touchline conversion, but it failed to take any gloss of an impressive display by him in the 10 shirt.

A trip to the unhappy hunting gound of Parc y Scarlets on Saturday, September 12, does not look so overwhelming now.

Ulster: Louis Ludik; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Peter Nelson, Paul Marshall; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring (capt), Wiehahn Herbst; Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe; Roger Wilson, Willie Faloon, Nick Williams

Replacements: John Andrew (Marshall 68), Ricky Lutton (Herbst 59), Bronson Ross (Andy Warwick 79), Peter Browne (Tuohy 55), Clive Ross (Williams 56), Sean Reidy (Faloon 66), David Shanahan (Trimble 68), Sam Arnold (McCloskey 59).

Scorers:

Tries: Herring, McCloskey, Herbst, L Marshall

Pens: McCloskey (2)

Con: McCloskey

Ospreys: Dan Evans; Kristian Phillips, Jonathan Spratt, Ben John, Tom Grabham; Sam Davies, Tom Habberfield; Marc Thomas, Sam Parry, Dmitri Arhip, Lloyd Ashley (Capt), De Kock Steenkamp, Joe Bearman, Lloyd Evans, Gareth Delve.

Replacements: Scott Otten (Parry 66), Nicky Smith (Thomas 52), Cai Griffiths (Arhip 63), Rory Thornton(Steenkemp 55), Dan Baker (Gareth Delve 48), Sam Underhill (Evans 63), Brendon Leonard (Habberfield 63), Ashley Beck (Jonathan Spratt 48).

Scorer

Pens: Sam Davies (2)

Yellow card: Joe Bearman (59-69)

Ref: Ian Davies (Wales)

Att: 13.544