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Preview: Ulster Rugby v Ospreys

client 30 Sep 2016
PRO12 Rugby

Ulster may be taking red-hot Guinness PRO12 form into a clash with Ospreys this weekend but Jared Payne claims there are still improvements to be made.

The Irish province have lost just one of their last nine league matches – a 30-18 reverse to Leinster in last season’s semi-finals – and have started this campaign with four wins on the spin.

That’s their best start to a season since setting the Guinness PRO12 record by winning their first 11 games back in 2012-13, with the latest victory being an impressive 22-17 triumph over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun.

Payne played at full-back in that clash but moves to outside centre for the visit of Ospreys with Charles Piutau switching from wing to full-back and Craig Gilroy claiming the No.14 shirt.

Every back in the Ulster 23 for Saturday’s clash – bar Louis Ludik and Brett Herron – has earned international honours and Payne claims it is that sort of ability that has stood them in such good stead so far this term.

“There is some serious talent across the back-line, we’re lucky to have such a wealth of international quality there,” he explained.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve played one game or 100 – if you’re not playing well you won’t get in the team.

“We are doing some good things but some poor things too. We are addressing as we go along, we know we are not the finished package.

“I don’t know if it is the most talented Ulster team I have played with but it is definitely the most honest; they are really good at addressing what has gone wrong regardless of the result.

“Everyone is keen to get better. It’s exciting to believe that there is more to come even though we are winning matches.”

Rory Best will make his first start of the season at hooker and is joined in the front row by the returning Kyle McCall, while 67-cap Ireland international Tommy Bowe could make his first Ulster appearance in five months from the bench.

Ospreys had recorded maximum league points after three rounds of Guinness PRO12 action before going down 31-19 to Leinster last time out and Steve Tandy has made six personnel changes form that clash.

Dan Evans is recalled at full-back with Eli Walker coming in on the wing, while a major pack reshuffle has seen four further alterations.

Hooker Sam Parry, lock Bradley Davies, No.8 Dan Baker and prop Nicky Smith – who will make his 50th Ospreys appearance – are all inserted into the starting XV.

Ospreys have won just once at the Kingspan Stadium since 2010, a 16-12 triumph in February 2013, and their only victory in their past five encounters with Irish provinces came over Connacht in round 2.

But the overall Guinness PRO12 head-to-head between Tandy’s men and Ulster is locked at 13 wins each and the head coach is looking for a reaction following last weekend’s defeat.

“It was extremely disappointing last weekend in Dublin, a frustrating evening all round, but we have to react positively,” said Tandy.

“We were up against a very good Leinster team but we didn’t impose ourselves on the game in the first half like we have done this season, away to Connacht in particular.

“When you look at the penalty count and error rate in the first half, there is the story of the game.

“We need to be better in all aspects if we’re going to get anything this Saturday. Start like that again and we’ll have the same result.

“Ulster is always a tough place to go and we know what to expect, but it shows how the PRO12 is growing and getting more competitive when every week you are faced with a real challenge.”

Ulster Rugby: Piutau, Gilroy, Payne, Cave, Ludik, Jackson, Marshall, McCall, Best, Ah You, O’Connor, Van der Merwe, Henderson, Reidy, Wilson

Replacements: Andrew, Black, Kane, Treadwell, Diack, Pienaar, Herron, Bowe

Ospreys: Evans, Hassler, John, Matavesi, Walker, Biggar, Webb, Smith, Parry, Arhip, Davies, Wyn Jones, King, Tipuric, Baker

Replacements: Baldwin, James, Fia, Thornton, Cracknell, Ardron, Habberfield, Davies

Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 26, Ulster won 13, Ospreys won 13.

At Kingspan Stadium, 6.30pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 29th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Paul Haycock (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Wigglesworth (IRFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via For further information visit

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

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Match Page 2017-18 - Match Data WP: 140

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Ulster battle back in frantic Ospreys clash

Ross Lawson 1 Oct 2016

Ulster fought back from a blistering opening quarter from Ospreys to keep their 100 per cent Guinness PRO12 record alive with a narrow 9-7 victory at the Kingspan Stadium.

Paddy Jackson proved decisive with all the Irish side’s points coming from the boot, slotting a penalty with just a couple of minutes left in a game Ospreys had led from the outset.

Nicky Smith bundled over for a try on his 50th appearance as the Welsh side looked for their fourth win of the season, eventually falling narrowly short in an enthralling encounter.

Ospreys learnt the lessons of last week’s defeat to Leinster, beginning the first half in frantic fashion, opening up the hosts’ back-line twice in the opening five minutes as Ben John in particular worked the angles.

The reward was to come moments later, Smith making the most of his accolade game to power over Rory Best to touch down, an apt reward for a string of encouraging phases of rugby.

Steve Tandy’s side didn’t let up either, with Dan Biggar converting for a 7-0 advantage as a direct approach seemed the order of the day, but their intuitive attack was met with smart defence to keep the try count to just one.

You wondered if the fast start could be maintained, as a stunned home crowd at the Kingspan Stadium watched just 12% of match action in the Ospreys half by the end of the first quarter, a game between two sides who have enjoyed positive starts to the Guinness PRO12 campaign.

But Ulster fought back, showing the character which saw them top the table in the early stages of the season, although Louis Ludik – who bit in a star performance across the evening – couldn’t make the most of space in the corner when fumbling from Darren Cave.

Ulster were on the board soon after, however, with Jackson kicking on the half-hour mark, the last movement of the scoreboard after an intriguing first half which saw the excitement far from reflected in the 7-3 score.

And it was the hosts who kept on their momentum in the second period, Jackson needing just four minutes to cut the deficit to just one before an impressive Best – who returned to the starting XV – forced another infringement.

Jackson was not to be successful this time around, and although Les Kiss’ side remained heavily on the front foot, resolute Ospreys defence dwindled the impact of heavy possession and territory for the Irish side.

Still Ulster came pouring forward, but the defence was matched in equal measure, almost stunning the home crowd with a try of their own.

A huge breakaway saw Tom Habberfield racing downfield, sliding out of touch under pressure at a valuable moment as the game was kept to just a solitary point.

Biggar missed a chance to extend that lead, skewing his drop-goal attempt narrowly wide on the left side with just ten minutes to go in a breathless encounter.

And after a second half almost camped in the Ospreys half, the pressure told for Ulster. Just two minutes were left on the clock when the hosts won a penalty, with Jackson this time making no mistake having missed earlier kicks from the tee to steal a last-gasp victory.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via For further information visit

Match Page 2017-18 - Summary WP:137

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