As part of a bumper Friday in the Guinness PRO14, Ospreys will face Ulster at Brewery Field in Bridgend with both teams gunning for a spot in the Guinness PRO14 Finals Series.
What’s at Stake?
Ospreys currently sit third in Conference A locked on the same points as Connacht, and with only two points separating the teams from third to sixth, things could not be tighter in the race for a top three spot.
Meanwhile, despite currently sitting fifth in Conference B, Ulster are just two points behind second-placed Benetton Rugby and will have one eye on the result in the Italians’ visit from Scarlets this weekend.
Teams News (Ospreys)
New signing Jordan Lay will make his debut for the Welsh outfit while Adam Beard, Aled Davies, Alun Wyn Jones, George North, Nicky Smith, Justin Tipuric and Owen Watkin are all tied up with the Wales squad.
Dan Evans will make his 100th Guinness PRO14 appearance while Will Griffiths will make his debut if he comes off the bench.
Team News (Ulster)
Meanwhile the Ulstermen have some celebrating of their own to do as Stuart McCloskey will make his 100th Ulster appearance in Friday’s Guinness PRO14 encounter.
Jordi Murphy has been released by the Ireland coaching team to join Nick Timoney and Clive Ross in the back row.
Scrum-half John Cooney is another to be discharged from international duty and he will partner Michel Lowry at half-back. It will be Lowry’s first start in the No.10 berth.
McCloskey will combine with Darren Cave in midfield and together they boast a mammoth 319 Ulster caps.
Perhaps just as crucial could be the return of Iain Henderson, who has recovered from the hand injury that has kept him out of the start of the Guinness Six Nations.
Ospreys backs coach Matt Sherratt said: “I know Ulster pretty well. Dwayne Peel is the Ulster attack coach and I worked with him in Bristol when he made the transition from player to coach.
“As you’d expect from a scrum-half coach, they are pretty positive, and they make the most passes in the league.
“They look to play a pretty good brand of rugby so hopefully if the conditions dictate it should be an exciting game.
“They are a good team. They lose boys to the Irish set-up, but if you look at their back-up, they’re a pretty strong province.”
Ulster skills coach Dan Soper said: “Without a doubt this is a tough time of year for all the teams because we are in the same boat with internationals away.
“We see it as a great opportunity for other guys to step up and get a chance in the team and we were disappointed with how finished the last block of the game against Treviso
“Since the players have been back in there has been a real steel and determination about their training.”
Sam Davies v Michael Lowry
Ospreys retain their fly-half, captain and top points scorer for the season in Sam Davies and he will be facing up to Ulster’s Michael Lowry, who is yet to play as a No.10 in the Guinness PRO14.
Davies has hit 124 points in the competition so far while his youthful counterpart links up with the experienced John Cooney in the half-backs for the visitors.
Ospreys’ only home defeat in the Guinness PRO14 since November 2017 was when Glasgow Warriors visited the Liberty Stadium last November.
Did you know?
The Ulstermen have lost their last three away games in Guinness PRO14 since beating Benetton in Treviso in Round 8.
Ospreys: Dan Evans, Hanno Dirksen, Cory Allen, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Luke Morgan, Sam Davies (C), Tom Habberfield, Jordan Lay, Scott Baldwin, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, Bradley Davies, Olly Cracknell, Sam Cross, James King
Replacements: Scott Otten, Rowan Jenkins, Ma’afu Fia, Will Griffiths, Rob McCusker, Matthew Aubrey, Luke Price, Keelan Giles
Ulster: Peter Nelson, Angus Kernohan, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Michael Lowry, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor (C), Iain Henderson, Clive Ross, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, James Hume, Robert Lyttle
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones, Ben Breakspear (both WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
TV: Premier Sports, EIR Sport
Stuart McCloskey’s score early in the second period and a late John Cooney penalty were enough for Ulster to seal victory at Ospreys.
McCloskey’s powerful break and neat offload to Peter Nelson broke the Ospreys’ line, and he finished off the move a phase later by diving over.
Cooney landed his only kick of three attempts in the final play of the encounter.
A battling contest was lacking in clear try-scoring opportunities as both defences maintained metronomic discipline in snuffing out movements from midfield.
Wing Angus Kernohan had the best chance of crossing the whitewash in the first half – neat Ulster build-up exposing a rare gap in the Ospreys backline.
Kernohan was fed possession just yards away on the right, but never cleanly gathered and the ball squirmed behind his sliding body agonisingly short of the line.
Cooney had earlier sent a long-distance penalty from the left wide of the posts, while Ospreys’ Luke Morgan looked the home side’s best chance of a spark, enjoying a couple of entertaining runs down the left, but the opening period finished scoreless.
McCloskey’s explosive break seven minutes into the second period got the visitors on the board – a neat sidestep led to a surging run and delicious offload to Nelson from the outside of the hand.
Full-back Nelson was prevented from going over by a superb covering tackle from James King, but McCloskey picked up the pieces and dived over wide to get the score, Cooney sending the resulting conversion back off the post.
Ulster looked more likely to extend their lead as the game wore on, but despite the Welsh outfit containing the visitors’ threat, Ospreys enjoyed little forays deep into Ulster territory in response.
Ospreys upped their efforts in the final ten minutes, with home forwards crashing into the Ulster backline time after time and the visitors throwing bodies in the way as they protected their slender advantage.
Their defence was epitomised by a huge turnover by Andy Warwick with five minutes on the clock and the Ospreys maul looking dangerous – a crucial shift in possession as they robbed the Ospreys of a promising position.
And insult was added to injury as the clock ticked into overtime, as Cooney robbed the Ospreys of the losing bonus point by launching a huge penalty through the posts to complete the scoring after a collapsed scrum.