Ospreys Late show hands Ulster high fives
Ulster 9 Ospreys 7
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss was happy to admit the better team lost at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night but was encouraged to see his side ensure the critical moments went their way in a dramatic win over Ospreys.
The hosts saw their streak of 34 straight PRO12 games at Kingspan Stadium with a try snapped, but a trio of Paddy Jackson penalties, the last of which came in the 79th minute, ensured that their winning run extended to five games and kept them top of the table.
With the PRO12's two meanest defences going head to head, perhaps a low-scoring affair was to be expected and Ospreys took a surprise lead in the sixth minute through prop Nicky Smith. After Dan Biggar converted, the visitors would not score again, but it looked like it might be enough for victory until the final moments.
With Justin Tipuric a constant thorn in Ulster's side, Ospreys produced a fantastic defensive effort that frustrated for long periods with scoring chances few and far between.
Both Louis Ludik and Jared Payne were called upon to make try-saving tackles in the second-half before, during the last throw of the Ulster dice, referee Ben Whitehouse adjudged that Ollie Cracknell hadn't rolled away from the breakdown.
Ospreys appeared to have a case that their flanker was being pinned in but Jackson, who had already missed twice, gratefully accepted the gift. Kiss was quick to acknowledge that Steve Tandy's men would have been good value for the victory.
"They'll be bitterly disappointed," he said. "I've got no qualms saying that they were the better team in a lot of areas. That doesn't always guarantee that you get the points though and I'm proud of what our boys did."
Last season, Ulster lost home games to Munster and Scarlets by narrow margins and Kiss was pleased to see key moments go the way of his side this time around.
"Internally we've talked about some of those missed opportunities last year," he said. "We're building a certain psyche around that. Maybe this was one of those nights that we can look back later on be thankful that we did what we did. These types of win, not playing our best against a team that was loaded up, should hold us in good stead."
Ulster lost key forward Iain Henderson to an elbow problem on Saturday morning, but Kiss remained confident that the Irish international will be fit to take on champions Connacht at the Sportsground on Friday.
"Iain had a slight graze on his elbow over the last week or two and it got a bit infected," he said.
"It blew up (Friday) afternoon late. We gave him antibiotics but he didn't sleep well and had a bit of a fever. He'll have to rest for three days but I expect, and the doctors expect, that he should be fine for next week.
"It wasn't ideal. He has such a physical presence but over the last four games, including this one, we've made anywhere between six to eight changes.
"Those thing aren't ideal but my challenge to the group, and I think that we're aiming up to it, is that you don't get ideal. You've got to be able to work in a world that isn't always certain."
The injury toll during the contest was low with Franco van der Merwe's rolled ankle causing the most concern, but Kiss described the knock as "nothing too sinister" after the lock, stand-in skipper for the day, was able to finish the game with Ulster having already used all their substitute forwards.
While Ulster are surely the team nobody wants to play at present, Connacht looked to finally be hitting their stride against Edinburgh on Friday night after a disastrous start to their title defence. Kiss is anticipating a keenly contested interpro in Galway.
"What they delivered the other night is probably getting closer to what they expect of themselves," he said.
"We play them down there on Friday and it's an imposing ground to play at.
"It's not comforting to see them start to hit form but we have to be bigger and better than all the challenges ahead of us.
"At this stage, we've done that but Connacht is a different kettle of fish."
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 (c), R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson
REPLACEMENTS: J Andrew (for Best, 73), C Black (forMcCall, 57), R Kane (for Ah You, 60), K Treadwell (for O'Connor, 65), C Ross (for Wilson, 53) R Pienaar (for Marshall, 55), B Herron, T Bowe (for Gilroy, 60).
OSPREYS: D Evans, J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, B Davies, A-W Jones (c), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker
REPLACEMENTS: S Baldwin (for Parry, 53), P James (Smith, 65), M Fia (Arhip, 57), R Thornton (Davies, 50), O Cracknell (Baker, 72) T Ardron (King, 50), T Habberfield (Hassler, 39), S Davies
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Man of the match: Justin Tipuric