Ulster put in a veritable Jekyll and Hyde performance in the first half, playing all the constructive rugby and looking very impressive with ball in hand, but showing too much indiscipline in set pieces and gifting the Ospreys 12 easy points.
The visitors made a confident start to the game, and young Jackson had seven personal points on the scoreboard within four minutes. Rapid passing at the break-down from first Pedrie Wannenburg and then Lewis Stevenson found the former Methodist College man well outside the opposition 22, and Jackson, rather than opting for a simple pass, stepped on the gas and outstripped three or four Ospreys to go over and ground his first-ever top flight try. The out-half converted his own score to make it Ospreys 0 Ulster 7.
Two missed penalties swiftly followed, one from the Ospreys' Dan Biggar which hit the upright, and another from Jackson on half-way which veered just right of the posts, before Biggar opened the hosts' account on 13 minutes. Jackson had the chance to restore the Ulster lead to seven points two minutes later, but pulled his kick wide of the left-hand post this time.
Although reduced to 14 men after Richard Hibbard had been binned for dissent at the scrum, the Ospreys were able to claw back three more points through Biggar on 26 minutes, and with Ulster conceding penalty after penalty at the breakdown, the out-half then propelled the Welshmen two points into the lead on the half-hour.
Biggar made it three in a row on 33 minutes after yet more Ulster indiscipline, but as the half neared its end, an inspired kick again from Jackson almost fashioned a try out of nowhere. From a seemingly innocuous position in midfield, the out-half alertly picked out Craig Gilroy on the right wing, and the quicksilver winger made good ground before supplying Dan Tuohy.
Assiduous defending in numbers from the Ospreys stamped out the danger from this move, but as the half ended Ulster continued to prove themselves the more creative side, and again came close to the try-line after a strong maul with good work from Ian Whitten in particular. The attack was blighted by a very marginal knock-on, however, and Ulster trotted off at half-time somewhat unfortunate to be trailing by five points.
Half-Time Score Ospreys 12 Ulster 7
The opening minutes of the second period saw the Ospreys' best possession of the encounter to date, but superb Ulster defence frustrated each raid the Welshmen made, and forced Biggar into a fruitless drop-goal attempt. But on the Ospreys' very next attack Tuohy was penalised and yellow-carded for not rolling away in the tackle, and Biggar wasted no time in extending the lead to Ospreys 15 Ulster 7.
With the Ospreys still pushing on 54 minutes, a 5-metre scrum after the deflection of another Biggar drop-goal attempt by Chris Henry looked ominous for Ulster. However, resilient work from the visiting front row succeeded in reversing the scrum in the first instance, before a further infringement put the Ospreys back in charge. The scrum reset several more times, and with the Ulster front row popping up for the third consecutive time, referee Dudley Phillips awarded the penalty try. This was converted by Biggar to give the Welshmen a healthy lead at Ospreys 22 Ulster 7.
Biggar continued his rich vein of kicking form on 65 minutes with another penalty, and Ospreys winger Richard Fussell put the result beyond any doubt on 72 minutes when he capitalised on a lucky bounce and hesitation between Whitten and Paddy McAllister to run in the try behind the posts unopposed. The score climbed to Ospreys 32 Ulster 7 thanks to replacement out-half Matthew Morgan's conversion.
With only five minutes remaining, Ulster eventually got themselves deep into Ospreys territory, and were rewarded for a strong, never-say-die forward drive from the line-out with a penalty try of their own, with the Welshmen adjudged to have dragged down the maul metres from the line when the try was certain.
Replacement scrum-half McKinney converted the score, and Ulster had sufficient time to launch one final attack, with outstanding ball-handling from Gilroy and the recently-entered McIlroy, before a knock-on by the attacking side prompted Phillips to call time on the encounter. A disappointing result, then, for Brian McLaughlin's side, but one they will hope to exorcise next Friday evening in another clash with Welsh opposition, away to the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Full-Time Score Ospreys 32 Ulster 14
(15 - 9) B Davies; R Fussell, T Isaacs, A Bishop, H Dirkson; D Biggar, R Webb
(1 - 8) D Jones, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; I Gough, J Goode; T Smith, J Thomas, J Tipuric (c)
Replacements (16 - 23) M Davies, C Griffiths, J Rees, J King, J Bearman, M Morgan, S Parker, K Phillips
(15 - 9) J Payne; C Gilroy, N Spence, L Marshall, I Whitten; P Jackson, P Marshall
(1 - 8) D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin; L Stevenson, D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, C Henry (c), R Diack
Replacements (16 - 23) N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, W Faloon, B McIlroy, J McKinney, A D'Arcy
|Ospreys Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|