Ulster staged a dramatic fightback in the last quarter of their match against Ospreys to inflict a second straight defeat on last year’s RaboDirect Pro12 champions at the Liberty Stadium.
Paul Marshall’s crucial last gasp try five minutes from time handed the Welsh region their second successive defeat in their opening two matches of the season after losing to Benetton Treviso in their opening fixture last week.
It had appeared as though things were going to plan for Ospreys, Matthew Morgan had converted two penalties and Hanno Dirksen scored a try which was duly converted giving them the lead with only ten minutes to go.
At that stage, Ulster had only three penalties to show for their efforts, one from Niall O’Connor and two from highly rated out half Paddy Jackson. Jackson’s late converted try turned the game on its head and the Ospreys were unable to respond in the dying minutes of the match.
The Ospreys edged an error strewn first half, which was lit up by a moment of inspiration from South African born speedster Dirksen.
Attacking intent was in plentiful supply by both sides, but all too often the promising attacks were undone by sloppy handling and it took until 22 minutes for the game to come alive when right wing Dirksen produced a superb individual run to claim the game’s first try.
Picking up a loose pass 35 metres out Dirksen crashed through fragile defending from Ulster, fending off full back Jared Payne before speeding away to reach the line unopposed. Morgan added the extras but the errors continued to blight the Ospreys performance and they were unable to build a convincing lead.
Ulster’s fly half, Niall O’Connor missed an early penalty opportunity before landing a long range penalty after 31 minutes but he failed again to land an ambitious attempt from inside his own half just before the break as the Ospreys took a four point lead at half time with the scores at 7-3.
After the break, Morgan extended the home side’s advantage with two more penalties as the Osprey’s tried to assert control of the match. Ulster coach Mark Anscombe turned the match on its head when he made a clutch of substitutions bringing on international props John Afoa and Tom Court to reinforce the scrum, while Stephen Ferris produced a solid display, thundering into tackles with great enthusiasm.
Paddy Jackson, another replacement, landed two penalties to make it 13-9 before replacement scrum half Marshall claimed the match winning try with only six minutes left on the clock.
A sharp counter attack through young winger Craig Gilroy set up the opportunity which led to Marshall touching down from close range. Referee Neil Paterson took the decision to the television match official for confirmation although Marshall and his Ulster team mates were confident of the score which was duly awarded.
That try left the champions with little time to salvage something from the game but any chance they may have had died out when poor handling skills meant they coughed up the ball again. The Ospreys now have only two losing bonus points to show from their opening two matches.
Pens: Morgan 2
Pens: O’Connor, Jackson 2
Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Hanno Dirksen, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Tom Isaacs, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Jonathan Thomas, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Ian Gough, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Joe Rees, 19 George Stowers, 20 Joe Bearman, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Tom Grabham.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Niall O’Connor, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 John Afoa, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Stephen Ferris, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Andrew Trimble.
Referee: Neil Paterson