Match Page 2017-18 - Scoreboard WP ID: 132

Match Page 2017-18 - Last Time WP ID: 133

Match Page 2017-18 - Current Standing WP: 134

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Match Page 2017-18 - Last 3 Matches WP: 142

Match Page 2017-18 - Season so Far WP:141

Preview: Ulster v Ospreys

Will Thompson 18 May 2018
Robbie Diack, Ulster Rugby

Ulster take on Ospreys in the first ever European Champions Cup play-off on Sunday at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

In a winner-takes-all clash, this could make or break both teams’ Guinness PRO14 seasons as a place at the top table of European rugby is up for grabs.

What’s at stake?

Ulster represent Conference B as the highest-placed team not to automatically qualify for the Champions Cup while Ospreys have benefited from the performances of Cardiff Blues and the Toyota Cheetahs’ EPCR ineligibility to represent Conference A.

With neither team finishing high enough in their respective conferences to qualify for the Guinness PRO14 Final Series, the chance for Champions Cup qualification will be eagerly desired by both.

Their only meeting this season in the league was a tight affair, with Ulster running out 8-0 victors thanks to a last-minute interception from Jacob Stockdale. So the match on Sunday promises to be a close encounter, especially considering the prize awaiting the winner.

Team news (Ulster Rugby)

Robbie Diack, Callum Black and Charles Piutau will play their final games in Ulster colours after being named in the starting line-up.

The coaching team have been boosted by the return of John Cooney and Piutau, who missed the Guinness PRO14 trip to Munster earlier this month due to concussion and personal reasons respectively. However, Rory Best (hamstring), Iain Henderson and Clive Ross (both knee) have been ruled out through injury, so Rob Herring, Kieran Treadwell and Diack come into the side.

Piutau’s inclusion at fullback sees Louis Ludik switch to the right wing, with Stockdale named on the other flank. Diack, who is set to earn his 206th Ulster cap on Sunday, will be joined in the back row by Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.

With Best out injured, Herring comes in to start at hooker and will also take over the captaincy role. Callum Black and Ross Kane will pack down either side of their skipper, while Alan O’Connor and Treadwell are paired in the second row.

Team news (Ospreys)

Dan Biggar will play his final game for Ospreys on Sunday having signed a contract with Northampton Saints next season and will be vital, having been the match-winner on Judgement day against Cardiff Blues.

Sam Davies comes in at full back for the injured Dan Evans, while Kieron Fonotia also misses out due to a hamstring problem, being replaced by Ashley Beck.

Alun Wyn Jones will lead out the Welshmen for his 228th appearance and Dan Lydiate comes in behind him as Sam Cross moves to the bench.

Matthew Aubrey, Cory Allen and James Hook all feature on the bench as the other changes to the squad from the last outing against Blues.

Talking points

Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes said: “A win would be great, European rugby is a big deal but for me what’s more important is the last impression that we make.

“For me it’s more important that we show the public the effort and the attitude that we are prepared to put in for each other on the field. We are proud of who we represent and who we play alongside.

“It’s the team that is able to adjust, minimise the drop-down in the last three weeks and is a bit more accurate with the ball that will have the upper hand.

“The motivation of Europe is a given for both teams but the actual challenge on the field is the cohesiveness and contact-readiness.”

Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke said: “It’s a big game, no doubt, and there is a prize for both sides at the end of it.

“Both teams want to be playing in the Champions Cup next season. You earn the right to play in the elite competition and, for ourselves and Ulster, it all comes down to this one game.

“As a collective, we’ve had to work hard to put ourselves into a position where we are one win away from qualification. We’ve come from somewhere where absolutely nobody would have backed us to get through, after we lost in Connacht in February, and we did that by digging in, staying tight as a team and working hard together to put together a run of results that has put us where we are.

“Ulster are a very good team and they will have home advantage but our preparation, our focus, has been all about us and that will be the case again for 80 minutes on Sunday.”

Key battle – Charles Piutau v Sam Davies

On what will be an emotional day for Charles Piutau as his last game for Ulster, the full back can change the game and will be central to Ulster’s attack.

The 26-year-old Kiwi features highly in the overall statistics for the season, beating 60 defenders – the most in the competition, making 210 carries – the second-most, and 29 offloads – again only bettered by one. He has also made the third-most metres with an impressive 1067 and 15 clean breaks, demonstrating his attacking prowess.

With Dan Evans out injured, the job to stop Piutau falls to Sam Davies. It will be intriguing to see how Davies deals with the All Black, but in attack Davies has acted as a crucial second receiver behind Biggar at times and will be important going forward when the fly-half is out of the picture.

Key fact: Ulster lost just twice in Belfast this season, to Leinster in round 7 and Edinburgh by a single point in round 15, while Ospreys have lost on their last seven visits to an Irish province since beating Connacht in Galway in September 2016.

Did you know? Ulster are the only side to have played in the Champions Cup every year since its inception in 1995/96 and who have never played a game in the Challenge Cup.

Ulster: Charles Piutau; Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Jonny McPhillips, John Cooney; Callum Black, Rob Herring (c), Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements:
John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Jack Regan, Chris Henry, Dave Shanahan, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy.

Ospreys: Sam Davies; Jeff Hassler, Ashley Beck, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Dmitri Arhip; Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (c); Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, James King.

Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Sam Cross, Matthew Aubrey, Cory Allen, James Hook.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 80th Championship appearance)
AR1: Mike Adamson (SRU) AR2: Gianluca Gnecchi (FIR)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Prices start at just €35 at www.ticketmaster.ie with tickets available to suit every experience.
To book hospitality visit:
 https://www.pro14rugby.org/hospitality
For Travel packages visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/travel-packages
For Fanzone & Dublin 7s visit: http://www.dublin7sfestival.ie

Historical Lineup Pre Opta (sfms data) - Preview - v2

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Gilroy’s double lifts Ulster over Ospreys and into Champions Cup

Charlie Talbot-Smith 20 May 2018

Craig Gilroy crossed for a double either side of the interval as Ulster downed Ospreys in the European Champions Cup play-off at the Kingspan Stadium.

In addition to Gilroy’s double, Kieran Treadwell also crossed before Jacob Stockdale’s late interception sealed the victory for the province who finished fourth in Guinness PRO14 Conference B.

The Ospreys had opened the scoring through skipper Alun Wyn Jones while Jeff Hassler and Dan Biggar also went over in the second half.

But Ulster proved too strong in the end to finish a tough season on a high and maintain their unbroken run of playing in Europe’s top competition.

On Jono Gibbes’ final game at the helm, Ulster – already without Rory Best and Iain Henderson through injury – were hit by Charles Piutau and Ross Kane also pulling out pre-kick off.

The province started slowly as a result, and the Ospreys should have taken an early lead but Biggar’s penalty came back off the post.

Considering Ospreys didn’t score a try at the Kingspan a month ago in the regular season meeting, they didn’t have to wait long for the opening score and it was their skipper Jones who provided it.

A rolling maul took the Ospreys close and then the lock burrowed over from close range and Biggar slotted the conversion for a deserved 7-0 lead for the visitors.

The game was largely being played around the halfway line by two edgy teams with everything to lose but Cooney did slot a penalty to get Ulster on the board.

Biggar then hit the posts again on his final game for the Ospreys and Ulster hit back before the break.

Stuart McCloskey made a big carry up the middle and then it was his midfield partner Luke Marshall who sent a perfectly-judged kick to the corner that sat up nicely for Gilroy.

Cooney could not add the extras however and Ulster led 8-7 at the break.

Straight on the resumption, Ulster stretched that advantage and it was Gilroy again, dribbling the ball over the line and dotting down after Cooney’s interception had released him.

The scrum-half also added the extras and Ulster were 15-7 ahead and dominant.

Biggar’s clearance was then charged down to put the Ospreys under more pressure and Treadwell eventually forced his way over, Cooney’s conversion making it a 15-point lead.

Back came the Welsh region however, James Hook off the bench and almost in the left corner but for a fine covering tackle from Luke Marshall who injured himself in the process.

Eventually the pressure told as Hassler fought off Stockdale to go over in the right corner but Biggar missed with the extras.

Cooney put the game to bed late on with a penalty to make it 25-12 before Stockdale juggled a Hook pass and then stormed clear for Ulster’s fourth try.

Biggar got a late consolation on his farewell game for the Ospreys but his rushed drop goal extras came back off the post again to sum up a disappointing day.

Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Prices start at just €50 at www.ticketmaster.ie with tickets available to suit every experience.
To book hospitality visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/hospitality
For Travel packages visit: https://www.pro14rugby.org/travel-packages
For Fanzone & Dublin 7s visithttp://www.dublin7sfestival.ie

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

Match Page 2017-18 - Timeline WP:139

Match Page 2017-18 - Lineups WP: 135

Match Page 2017-18 - Performance WP:138