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Clermont away is the ideal game after frustration of Ospreys defeat... Ulster were undone by gain line failures and a strong defence

Paul Marshall


Ulster's John Cooney converts a penalty against Ospreys

Ulster's John Cooney converts a penalty against Ospreys

©INPHO/Ryan Hiscott

Premier Sports' Paul Marshall

Premier Sports' Paul Marshall


Ulster's John Cooney converts a penalty against Ospreys

Some people might be thinking it’s a bad thing Ulster have Clermont next weekend, but I think it’s the perfect game for them as it means they have no choice but to move on quickly from this defeat to the Ospreys.

I was lucky enough to play at the Stade Marcel-Michelin during my career and it is one of the best away venues in Europe, the fans are crazy in a good way – they really get behind their team and it’s an incredible atmosphere. The stadium is so steep on both sides you’re almost cocooned on the pitch.

Because of that, I don’t think there’ll be any hangover from this result, I think the message will be it’s a new week, a new tournament and we want to start it well.

But there will of course be a bit of frustration too. Ulster will have gone over to Swansea confident, but not overconfident, after the win against Leinster, and they had so much territory and possession throughout that game but didn’t capitalise on it as much as they would have liked.

That was down to a couple of things: they probably didn’t get the gain line as much as they did against Leinster in and around the 22 and generate the same speed of ball, but I think that also comes down to the Ospreys’ defence, which was very, very sound. Any time Ulster carried hard, they hit back hard.

It was a frustrating game and it looked like the Ospreys had the intent of slowing the game down, which meant Ulster never had the same flow as they had the week before.

I felt that the Ospreys were maybe a little lucky that the referee gave them a warning and then seemed to give them another warning instead. To me, if you’ve given the team a warning for something then the next penalty should result in a yellow card, but he gave Rhys Webb another warning after not rolling away.

Ulster had the intention of having Stuart McCloskey be direct and get his hands free, and I think that definitely worked in parts, but what they weren’t able to do was get those third, fourth offloads away, which is where they’ve been very effective in the past. The Ospreys were able to snuff that out.

Maybe at times I’d have liked to have seen them attack a bit wider, but they have a game plan and that seemed to be they would hit close repeatedly and then go back down the short side. They just didn’t get those same gain lines.

And, of course, losing young Tom Stewart and Bradley Roberts certainly made Ulster’s scrum very difficult in the closing minutes, which played a big part.

They’ll be very disappointed but it’s not for a lack of effort. Ulster threw as much as they could at the Ospreys but they were able to repel it.

So now they move on to next week. Hopefully Duane Vermeulen will be back in the mix, and when he arrives in it’ll be a huge boost for the squad.

I’m sure Dan McFarland made some rotations to the squad knowing that there are some massive games coming up – these are 10 really, really tough games and Ospreys away was up there with any of the others in terms of difficulty - but he’ll have a full deck to choose from next week.

Heading into Europe, yes they would have really wanted to get a win, but yesterday was a big, physical hit-out for the team, so I think that will stand them in good stead going over to France next week.

* Paul Marshall is part of the Premier Sports team bringing live coverage of every Ulster game home and away throughout the season in the United Rugby Championship.

Premier Sports will have full live coverage of every minute of Ulster’s thrilling fixtures throughout the festive season. It all starts on Boxing Day at Kingspan when Ulster entertain Connacht with coverage from 4.45pm on Premier Sports 1. The New Year starts with a bang as Ulster host Leinster on January 1 with a kick off at 7.35pm.


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