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Ulster fall to shock PRO14 defeat as Ospreys claim bonus point win at Liberty Stadium

Ospreys 26-24 Ulster

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Robert Baloucoune of Ulster Rugby runs in a try. Credit: INPHO/Alex James

Robert Baloucoune of Ulster Rugby runs in a try. Credit: INPHO/Alex James

©INPHO/Alex James

Guinness PRO14, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, UK 15/02/2020
Ospreys vs Ulster Rugby
Eric O'Sullivan of Ulster 
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex James

Guinness PRO14, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, UK 15/02/2020 Ospreys vs Ulster Rugby Eric O'Sullivan of Ulster Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex James

©INPHO/Alex James

Guinness PRO14, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, UK 15/02/2020
Ospreys vs Ulster Rugby
Stuart McCloskey of Ulster 
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex James

Guinness PRO14, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, UK 15/02/2020 Ospreys vs Ulster Rugby Stuart McCloskey of Ulster Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex James

©INPHO/Alex James

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Robert Baloucoune of Ulster Rugby runs in a try. Credit: INPHO/Alex James

Ulster slumped to a shock defeat to Ospreys in Swansea, a 75th minute penalty from Luke Price giving the Swansea outfit only their second win of the season at the Liberty Stadium.

Despite the late dramatics, it was no more than the hosts deserved having led by 13-points before a brief Ulster fightback gave them an ill-deserved lead in the closing stages.

The visitors struggled for neither territory nor possession throughout but mistakes and ill-discipline gave the Welsh region a foothold in a game played in terrible conditions.

Two of their three scores would come from the maul and, while Ulster looked more dangerous moving through phases, their periods of sustained pressure were too few.

Tries from Matt Faddes and Stuart McCloskey in the final quarter looked set to paper over the cracks, but Ospreys late penalty turned the tables once again while Bill Johnston saw a late drop goal attempt charged down.

Having not won since October, Ospreys took a 3-0 lead early but McCloskey did well to get Ulster back on the front foot.

With penalty advantage, he did well to recognise the mis-match on the edge of the ruck, shrugging off the tackle of tight-head Gardiner before finding Robert Baloucoune one-on-one on the outside. The wing was never going to make a mistake from there with the visitors surely thinking they could take control of proceeding from there.

Nothing of the sort.

Having struggled for tries all season, the region registered twice in ten minutes. First Owen Watkin ran a clever line against the grain to slice through the Ulster defence and slide over before referee Marius Mitrea judged that Scott Otten had successfully grounded from a maul.

Price and Burns traded penalties before the half but, given their error count and ill-discipline, Ulster could have no complaints at being eight points adrift at the turn.

Hardly a night to be playing from behind, the second-half was no better than the first. Setting the tone right from the off as they misjudged the restart, Ospreys were good value for their second mauled score of the evening ten minutes into the half. Only a missed conversion stopped the hosts from moving into a three-score lead.

Despite the flaws in their performance, Ulster looked capable when patiently holding onto the ball and racked up 24 phases then another 14 in two consecutive attacks before eventually moving the ball wide where Faddes turned inside Morgan to score.

As bad as their performance had been, they were back within a score on the hour mark.

And as Dan McFarland called on his replacements, good work from Dave O'Connor turned Ospreys over five metres from their own line. Ulster attacked off the scrum and after yet more patient build-up drew Ospreys narrow, Bill Johnston's cross-field kick found Stuart McCloksey for a walkover score.

Johnston, on for Burns only moments prior, nailed the conversion from the sideline to give Ulster their first lead since the early going.

They even looked capable of escaping with a bonus-point win but a key turnover from Dan Lydiate set them back. When Dave Shanahan was pinged for playing the ball from the ruck, Price stepped up confidently to move his side back in front.

The late twists and turns weren't done yet. With one second to spare Marcell Coetzee forced a breakdown penalty but, despite making good ground, Ulster rushed the drop goal and had to settle for nothing more than a losing bonus-point.

OSPREYS: C Evans; H Dirksen, O Watkin, K Williams, L Morgan; L Price, A Davies; N Smith, S Otten, S Gardiner; A Beard, B Davies; D Lydiate (c), O Cracknell, G Evans.

Replacements: S Parry (for Otten, 60) G Thomas (for Smith, 60), G Gajion (for Gardiner, 76), L Ashley, S Cross (for Evans, 76), S Venter, T Thomas-Wheeler (for Williams, 63), J Hook.

ULSTER: M Faddes; R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, L Ludik; B Burns, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, A McBurney, M Moore; A O’Connor (c), K Treadwell; M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: J Andrew (for McBurney, 50), J McGrath (for O'Sullivan, 40), T O’Toole (for Moore, 40), D O’Connor (for Treadwell, 50), J Murphy (for Rea, 50), J Stewart, B Johnston, C Gilroy (for Faddes, 60)

Referee: M Mitrea

Man of the match - D Lydiate

Belfast Telegraph