Clinical Ulster sparkle to leave the Ospreys grounded in PRO14 opener
Ulster 38 Ospreys 14
At times they looked understandably a bit rusty but Ulster, ultimately, had far too much fire in their bellies to lose this PRO14 opener against Conference A rivals Ospreys.
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They scored five tries - one being a penalty try - with winger Craig Gilroy getting a brace with scores either side of half-time which were both created by the kick-passing of Billy Burns who also had a fine game.
New signing Matt Faddes also crossed the whitewash on his competitive debut with his crucial try - right at the end of the first half - putting Ulster into a lead they then refused to surrender with the penalty try arriving in the 70th minute.
John Cooney kicked 11 points from four conversions and a penalty while winger Rob Lyttle also shone against former Ulster assistant coach Allen Clarke's side.
Ulster led 21-14 after a frenetic opening half after coming back from trailing 8-0 through Faddes' try and a first touchdown from Greg Jones who started ahead of Jordi Murphy.
The pre-match build-up was somewhat overshadowed by the withdrawal of back-rower Murphy for what was thought to be in case of his possible call-up to Joe Schmidt's World Cup squad in Japan. Jack Conan's foot injury necessitated the situation though the Leinster man's status is believed to be under review over the weekend and may not require Murphy to make the long haul flight.
We have been here before, of course, as Will Addison - presumably prior to his own injury - was pulled from Ulster's starting team in the pre-season friendly in Glasgow due to what was thought to be in case he was needed to replace Robbie Henshaw.
The visitors got off the mark first when Luke Price kicked a penalty after just four minutes with Ulster straying offside prior to Gilroy intercepting Price's long pass and haring down the pitch only to be called back.
Things then got worse for Ulster and four minutes later Price put Dan Evans through a huge gap in the home side's defence.
The full-back stepped outside the covering Lyttle who did well to get to him just short of the line. Even though it looked like Lyttle had held Evans up, the TMO was consulted and referee Andrea Piardi - in for Marius Mitrea who was forced to withdraw - awarded the score. Price failed to convert but Ulster were under the cosh at 8-0 behind.
Their first chance at points saw Cooney miss the sort of penalty shot you would expect him to nail.
Ulster then lost the ball in contact after putting their next penalty into the corner but when another shot came they didn't miss.
This time the ball was moved and Burns' kick pass was collected by Gilroy to dot down.
Even better, Cooney's conversion of the 13th minute score rebounded off the post and fell on the right side for the home team to put Ulster one point behind.
But Price then landed a monster penalty from half-way to push the Welsh region ahead by four points.
Cooney was then held up over the line after another kick by Burns picked put Lyttle who did well to reach the red zone.
The resulting penalty was put into the corner and after 11 phases Jones burst over to give Ulster the lead for the first time.
Cooney converted for 14-11.
Even with 14 men, the Ospreys were next to score through Price's third penalty which levelled matters with two minutes of the half remaining.
Ulster then turned it up in the dying moments of the half. A loose ball was snaffled on the floor and with Lyttle making good progress down the left the ball was then spun along the line to the right with Faddes speeding in at the corner. Cooney's superb conversion saw McFarland's men troop off 21-14 ahead.
When the sides came out, one of the floodlights had failed leaving the Aquinas end in partial darkness. Cooney kicked a 45th minute penalty to put Ulster 24-14 up and Gilroy bagged the bonus point with Burns providing the assist.
Cooney's conversion put Ulster 31-14 ahead and seemingly in control with decent impacts from replacements Alan O'Connor - whose first move was to win a lineout turnover - and Michael Lowry who also won back possession in a tackle.
Ulster, with the rain falling, kept on coming and with less than 10 minutes to go, Lyttle was shoved off the ball in the corner with Faddes then seemingly missing the follow-up as the ball rolled over the Ospreys' line.
The TMO was consulted with Lyttle having a case for a penalty try which was awarded and winger Luke Morgan left the field permanently after being shown his second yellow card.
The Ospreys then got over in the last minute via Matthew Aubrey but had the score was scrubbed for a forward pass.