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Ulster v Ospreys: Darren Cave lands the killer blow

Ulster 25-16 Ospreys

By Michael Sadlier

It was never going to be pretty thanks to the truly appalling weather, but Ulster did enough to bank their fifth home win in the PRO12 - their sixth overall - and also become the first side to down the Ospreys in this league campaign.

This was all about digging very deep to salvage this game though after Ulster had led 18-3 at half-time only to see the visitors come right back in the second half to narrow the home side's once secure lead to 18-16 until, right at the death, Ulster overcame their jitters when Darren Cave's second try of the night secured the result.

Of perhaps even more importance, though, replacement Ian Humphreys' conversion snatched a losing bonus point from the battling Ospreys.

Ulster had been strong in the opening 40 minutes with tries from Cave - who along with Stuart Olding and Craig Gilroy had been released by Ireland - and Franco van der Merwe paving the way to their strong looking lead while the home side's scrum was huge.

Paddy Jackson was also in great form though the only real downside of the night came when he left the action injured in the second half with what could possibly be a shoulder injury.

In terrible conditions with driving rain sweeping across the Kingspan, Ulster at least started in a lively manner and looking fresh from their break, but an early error from Rob Herring - when he threw crooked at a good attacking lineout - looked to have undone all that decent work.

However, from the resulting scrum, Ulster shunted the Ospreys off the ball and after skipper Roger Wilson had broken blind and linked with Paddy Jackson, the home side moved it wide and from a ruck on the line, and with a penalty advantage being played, Darren Cave wriggled through to touch down.

Jackson converted and Ulster were 7-0 up after 10 minutes and they kept up the pressure with some effective bursts from Clive Ross and Stuart McCloskey and this helped nail them a 20th minute penalty which Jackson put through the sticks with a sweet strike to take it to 10-0.

Then after an effective lineout maul, Ospreys' flanker Sam Lewis was penalised and Jackson struck a wonderful 31st minute penalty.

But, from the restart, Ulster then gave away a penalty and Sam Davies got the visitors off the mark a minute later just to remind the home side that this was not going to be a stroll towards another potentially positive result.

And then with half-time beckoning, the home side were sloppy with their lineout ball and though the Welsh side poured through on possession, Neil Doak's men got the put-in after a knock-on in the frantic scramble for possession.

It paid off as, once more, Ulster won a penalty and after they kicked for the corner they launched another driving maul which careered over the line with Franco van der Merwe scoring.

However, Jackson missed the extras this time just as the half ended with Ulster going off leading 18-3.

After some aerial ping-pong, Craig Gilroy got himself penalised after running out of his 22 from a rebounding ball and ignoring an obvious offload by going to ground.

The result was an Ospreys penalty and they kicked for the corner and used their own lineout maul to drive towards the Ulster line and they punished the home side when scrum-half Martin Roberts got over for the try three minutes in. And just to really hammer the hurt home, Davies converted to narrow Ulster's lead to eight points.

As the errors piled up in the rain, it was the Ospreys who were still managing to look slightly more composed and threatening.

Then just before the hour mark, two scrum penalties were quickly given against the home side with the second call, Davies put the ball between the sticks to now cut Ulster's lead to 18-13.

Worse was to follow for the now struggling home side as they strayed offside and Davies nailed his third penalty to cut Ulster's lead now to just two points.

Jackson's departure with what initially appeared to be a shoulder injury hardly helped matters as Ulster began to look decidedly rattled.

Again, Ulster made too many poor calls with possession and kicked it away rather too easily to the Ospreys which with time running out saw replacement Declan Fitzpatrick put in a crucial tackle on Davies as he tried to head through a gap.

Finally, though, with the clocking running down rapidly, Ulster launched a lineout maul and after a series of controlled close-in driving they made their way right up to the Ospreys line where Cave stepped in and reached for the line with the TMO granting the score near the posts.

Humphreys converted and Ulster suddenly looked secure with time almost up and the Ospreys now even without a losing bonus for all their efforts.

ULSTER: Stuart Olding, Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Franco van der Merwe, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson (Capt)

Replacements (16-23): John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Alan O'Connor, Nick Williams, Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys (right), Peter Nelson

OSPREYS: Dan Evans,Tom Grabham, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Aisea Natoga, Sam Davies, Martin Roberts; Duncan Jones, Sam Parry, Dmitri Arhip, Lloyd Peers (Capt), Rynier Bernardo, James King, Sam Lewis, Dan Baker

Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Marc Thomas, Cai Griffiths, Rory Thornton, Ifereimi Boladau, Ieuan Jones,Tom Habberfield, Hanno Dirksen

Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)

Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Brian MacNeice (both IRFU)

Attendance: 16,923

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