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Flying start for Ulster is a superb bonus

Ulster 28-6 Ospreys

By Jonathan Bradley

It may have taken almost all of the 80 minutes but Ulster got their Pro12 season off to the perfect start last night with a bonus point victory over the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium.

The chase for the all-important fourth try - that began when Wiehahn Herbst crashed over as early as the 52nd minute - looked to be petering out to a frustrating conclusion for the home side when a Craig Gilroy break was supported by the unlikely figure of John Andrew.

The hooker, who started on the bench due to Rory Best's Ireland involvement, was deployed at wing after entering the fray and following a lengthy run released Luke Marshall in the corner.

For a game in which the build-up was dominated by talk of Andrew Trimble's exclusion from Ireland's World Cup squad, Peter Nelson's ascension to the unfamiliar number 10 jersey and the lack of a goal-kicker, such worries proved unfounded and the five-point return will boost confidence ahead of an extended period without the team's frontliners thanks to World Cup duty.

After appearing there only for the Ravens and Dungannon, Nelson was composed in his first senior start at fly-half, Stuart McCloskey kicked well in what was a man-of-the-match display and Trimble was able to put the disappointments of the last week behind him.

The first score of the season took only six minutes to arrive with new skipper Rob Herring marking his red letter day with a try.

With Nelson moving his side around the park and executing well, Nick Williams, in his first appearance since March, showed Ulster what they had missed during his lengthy ban as he barrelled into contact and offloaded to Willie Faloon.

The flanker - in his first match since returning from Connacht this summer - broke through and, while he was hauled down short of the line, he presented well to Marshall who had Herring on his shoulder to collect the ball and go over from close range.

With goal-kicking duties handed to McCloskey rather than Nelson, the inside centre's first conversion attempt provided nervy viewing for the home faithful but he lessened the apprehension shortly after when punishing an Ospreys offside with a well struck penalty.

The Welsh side hit back when the belated first scrum of the contest came down on Herbst's side with a quarter of the game gone and Sam Davies' penalty was knocked over via the post.

If it seemed certain that Trimble would influence the game, perhaps the only surprise was that it took almost half an hour.

As a Davies kick spiralled up into the night sky, Trimble called off his full-back Louis Ludik to claim the ball and showed an explosive burst to move past De Kock Steenkamp and Ben John.

Halted only after making some 20 metres, he protected possession well for Paul Marshall and the ball moved through the hands of Williams and Nelson to reach McCloskey.

The centre still had much to do, with a number of Ospreys between him and the line, but the 23-year-old brushed them aside with a disdain usually reserved for persistent winged insects and, after TMO consultation, was adjudged to have grounded the ball.

Buoyed by the impressive score, the testing sideline conversion proved no obstacle.

Ospreys came back again, Davies adding a second penalty to double the visitors' tally, but Neil Doak's side led 15-6 at the turn.

One aspect of the game that Ulster will not have wanted to see repeated in the second-half was the scrum struggles of Herbst but the burly South African was pinged for a third time, and warned by the referee, before Davies' penalty drifted off target.

A further McCloskey penalty created further breathing room before a try from Herbst finally put the game to bed.

Herring boldly went for the corner when a penalty would have put them three scores ahead, he found Franco van der Merwe at the front of the line-out and, after a Williams carry, Herbst put his set-piece struggles behind him to go over for his second Ulster try.

Joe Bearman's yellow card on the hour mark raised expectations of a bonus point but, with a man light, the region had their best spell.

Ulster's scrum continued to creak but the pack were able to hold sufficiently firm to ensure their line remained unbreached and set the stage for the late five-pointer.

With Scarlets to come next weekend, Ulster must now prove their away day travails have been consigned to last season if they are to carry momentum into the two-week World Cup break.

Ulster: L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy, P Nelson, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring (Captain), W Herbst, D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe, R Wilson, W Faloon, N Williams.

Replacements: J Andrew (for P Marshall, 68), R Lutton (for Herbst, 59), B Ross (for Warwick, 77), P Browne (for Tuohy,54), C Ross (for Williams, 56), S Reidy (for Faloon, 66), D Shanahan (for Trimble, 67), S Arnold (for McCloskey, 59).

Ospreys: D Evans; K Phillips, J Spratt, B John T Grabham, S Davies, T Habberfield; M Thomas, S Parry, D Arhip, L Ashley, De Kock Steenkamp, J Bearman, L Evans, G Delve.

Replacements: S Otten (for Beck, 66), N Smith (for Thomas, 52), C Griffiths (for Arhip, 63), R Thornton (for Steenkamp, 54), D Baker, S Underhill (for Evans, 63), B Leonard (for Habberfield, 63), A Beck

Match rating: 7/10

Man of the match: Stuart McCloskey (pictured). Provided the game's highlight with a stellar try.

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