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Magners League: Winning mindset is key to success for Ulster

By Niall Crozier

In the course of the next nine months there will be days and nights when Ulster do not win. That is inevitable.

But on those occasions they will seek to emulate what Ospreys did on Friday night when, despite having been beaten, they banked a point. In the final analysis that could be the difference between success and failure.

This ‘never-leave-empty-handed’ mentality is one which Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is keen to create in his players.

In the immediate aftermath of Friday night’s victory he said: “What cost us last year was that we couldn’t finish out games. We kept giving away cheap points which either cost us the victory or cost us bonuses.

“So that’s something we have instilled — with our leaders, with our coaches — into these guys, that we have got to get something from every game we play.

“That’s what we’re looking to do. That’s what we did tonight.”

He was right. That is exactly what Ulster did. They kept their focus, kept their discipline, kept their faith and kept playing until, in the end, they got the win that that mindset and their performance merited.

“We just needed to get a win. It didn’t matter how we got it or that it wasn’t pretty,” was McLaughlin’s analysis — and again he was spot on.

Friday night was about making a winning start and, by so doing, making a statement. Not just to the rest of the Magners League but also to themselves.

The message that will have gone out — and hopefully in — is that Ulster do not give things away.

If you are to win at their expense you must beat them because they do not surrender.

The second half showed that resolve when — for the first time in the match — Ulster slipped into arrears in the 45th minute.

Ten minutes later they regained the lead with Niall O’Connor landing a magnificent long-range penalty, this a short time after missing one.

Ospreys responded by sending in some very big guns — Shane Williams, Paul James, Huw Bennett and Lee Byrne.

James arrived at Ravenhill having made 103 Magners League appearances, to say nothing of 13 for Wales.

Messrs Williams, Byrne and Bennett respectively boast 73, 35 and 34 Welsh caps. And Williams and Byrne, of course, are Lions. That’s pedigree.

And with the outstanding Dan Biggar having made it 26-24 to |Ospreys by kicking his fourth penalty of the evening on the hour, Ulster really were up against it.

But again they dug deep, with O’Connor landing another huge — in terms both of distance and importance — penalty which gave them a one point advantage.

Having come back from 23-21 down, they had rallied again when the board showed 26-24 against them.

They will — indeed, they must — spend time assessing how they gifted Richard Fussell and Biggar such soft tries, though if they are being honest they will know that Stephen Ferris’s smash and grab act was a bit of a steal, too.

Nor will Ospreys be happy with their defence after examining Darren Cave’s score.

But those are not Ulster’s problems so they need not dwell on such things.

Instead they can reflect on having had the ability and bottle to beat the title-holders, register their third successive Magners League win and prevent a hat-trick of opening round defeats at the hands of Welsh opponents. Those are firm foundations on which they can build.

ULSTER: Adam D'Arcy; Tommy Seymour, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine; Niall O'Connor, Paul Marshall; Bryan Young, Rory Best (captain), Declan Fitzpatrick; |Johann Muller, Tim Barker; Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg. |Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Paddy McAllister, Ryan Caldwell, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Paddy Wallace, Jonny Shiels

OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; Nikki Walker, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Jamie Nutbrown; Ryan Bevington, Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths; Ian Gough, Ian Evans; Jerry Collins (captain), Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas. |Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Duncan Jones, James Goode, Ben Lewis, Rhys Webb, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams

Referee: Peter Allen

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