Ulster got their Guinness PRO14 campaign underway on Friday evening against the Ospreys in Belfast. Ulster gave new summer singings, Sam Carter, Matt Faddes and Jack McGrath their debuts but were forced into a late change with Jordi Murphy being withdrawn just before kick-off as a precaution for Jack Conan who has picked up a foot injury in Japan. Greg Jones came into the side starting at 8 with Clive Ross taking his spot on the bench.
Ospreys got the first points of the evening after an Ulster infringement allowed Luke Price to have an easy shot at goal. It wasn’t long until they were back on the scoreboard after a great try from Ospreys Full-Back Dan Evans. A quick snap from Aubrey to Price caught the Ulster inside defence out with Dan Evans running a great inside line bursting through the line untouched, still with a lot to do Evans feinted inside turning Lyttle’s shoulders before taking the outside, Lyttle caught Evans just shy of the line but the Ospreys veteran just did enough to touch down for the unconverted try.
Ulster were offered their first points of the evening after the Ospreys gave away a breakdown penalty following a strong carry and off-load from James Hume. Cooney pushed his attempt wide of the right post leaving the Ospreys ahead on the scoreboard by 8.
Ulster shortly made their way back into the Ospreys 22 with an attacking line-out providing a good platform for the Ulster backline to launch from. With the Ulster pack rumbling forward, the ball came loose but was fed to Ulster Out-Half who dinked the ball wide with a flat cross-field kick that was gathered after one bounce by returning winger Craig Gilroy. Cooney after missing a relatively simple penalty only minutes earlier made it a 7-pointer with the ball clearing the bar via the left upright narrowing the Ospreys lead to just 1 point. 7-8.
With it being the first game of the season, handling errors were plentiful for both sides but Ulster certainly looked the more dangerous when in possession. Billie Burns successfully found Rob Lyttle with another beautiful dinked cross-field. Lyttle showed great strength and pace but perhaps had the option to feed new signing Matt Faddes with a simple 2 v 1 but opted to go himself only to be hauled down short of the line. Cooney had a dart from close range but was held up. Thankfully for Ulster, Ospreys winger Luke Morgan was off-side, yellow carded and the Ulster pack were given another bash at the try line off a driving maul. After several phases, Greg Jones got across the line for a converted try with Ulster taking a 14-11 lead.
Ospreys lost lock, James king to injury just prior to half time, Baker replaced him making his first competitive appearance in almost 2 years following a horror injury. 2 penalties in quick succession from Ulster gave the Ospreys territory and a chance to draw level. Luke Price again converting.
On the stroke of half-time Ulster regained the lead. John Cooney could easily have been judged to have played the Ospreys 9 but the ref waved play-on and a strong Ulster counter attack that included another strong carry from James Hume followed by a quick pick from Rob Lyttle saw Ulster stretch the Ospreys defence. Quick ball allowed the ball to come wide to Craig Gilroy who turned from scorer to provider with a skip pass to Matt Faddes who finished well in the corner on debut. Cooney nailed the touchline conversion to send Ulster in at half-time 21-14 up.
HT – Ulster 21 – 14 Ospreys.
The 2nd-half started off a little duller than the first, literally, with one set of floodlights failing. Cooney was on-hand shortly into the 2nd-half to extend the Ulster lead with another penalty and it wasn’t long until Ulster secured their bonus point.
Faddes and Lyttle linked up well on several occasions before Burns was given another opportunity to drop it onto the foot for another cross-field for Gilroy. This time he collected it on the full, scoring the bonus point try under the posts giving Cooney an easy conversion.
With the bonus point in the bag, Burns was withdrawn with the lively Michael Lowry coming on at Out-Half. Ulster continued to pin back the Ospreys with Lowry and Faddes putting the pull in behind the Ospreys defence on several occasions.
Ulster continued to dominate possession and territory throughout the second half but it wasn’t until the 70th minute before the scoreboard was moved again. Debutant Faddes picked up a loose kick and glided through the Osprey defence linking up again with the dangerous Lyttle. He chipped over the remaining defenders and as he was about to stretch out to touch down the bouncing ball, Ospreys winger, Morgan was adjudged to have played him without the ball by the TMO. Controversially Ulster were awarded a penalty try and Morgan was given his second yellow card of the game.
Ospreys finished the game by finally playing some rugby in the Ulster 22. After several phases they eventually got across the try line but after a TMO review it was adjudged that the line breaking pass was forward.
FT – Ulster 38 – 14 Ospreys.
A very positive opening performance from Ulster to kick off their season. New signings Carter, McGrath and Faddes all impressed, especially Faddes who combined well with Rob Lyttle on several occasions. Ulster fans will also be glad to see Craig Gilroy return to action after a long spell on the sidelines. Other impressive performances came from young centre, James Hume who looked dangerous in attack with several strong carries. Mike Lowry looked a threat every time he touched the ball and Sean Reidy put in a huge shift with 16 tackles. Rob Lyttle got special praise from Ulster Head coach Dan McFarland in the post-match press conference, not just for his continual attacking threat but also for his defensive display and his fight and willingness to keep the ball alive.
Man of the Match was awarded to Billie Burns. Despite only playing 50 minutes he had a huge influence in the game with 3 pinpoint cross-field kicks, 2 of which directly resulted in tries and another which ultimately led to a try being scored just a few phases later. He spoke with Premier Sports post-game.
Ulster head to South Africa on Tuesday for their next round of PRO14 Fixtures where they will face the Cheetahs and Southern Kings. McFarland is planning on taking a 28-man squad to South Africa which could include Springbok Marcel Coetzee who is on track to make a faster than expected return from injury. Coetzee suffered a syndesmosis injury and had surgery just 5 weeks ago but is hoping to be back in action within the next 2-3 weeks. Stuart McCloskey has picked up a ‘lower limb’ injury and will be doubtful to make the trip.
Ulster star set for period on sidelines following ankle surgery
Michael Lowry picked up an injury in South Africa and has since underwent ankle surgery and will be unavailable for 6-8 weeks.
Rob Lyttle is out of contention for this weekends game with a back injury and prop, Tommy O’Hagan is also out with a knee injury.
With Ireland making their exit last weekend, they will hoping that the likes of Rob Herring & Jordi Murphy will be available for selection soon although their presence against Cardiff is very unlikely.
Leinster Cruise to Victory Once Again
Leinster have continued their winning start to the 2019/20 PRO14 season with yet another impressive performance
Tries from man of the match Jamison Gibson-Park, Michael Bent, Caelan Doris, Scott Penny, Vakh Abdaladze and Rowan Osbourne saw the hosts claim another impressive run-away win following their 53-5 dismissal of the Ospreys last weekend.
Leinster had the best chances in the opening minutes, as Edinburgh struggled to get out of their own half. However, despite receiving two kickable penalties inside ten minutes Ross Byrne couldn’t find the target.
Sandwiched in between the two penalty misses was a disallowed try as the hosts failed to make their territory count, but that changed in the 16th minute. Following a lovely break down the right by Dave Kearney, he tried a pass back inside to a teammate, but the ball instead hit James Lowe in the face inches out from the line.
Gibson-Park pounced on the ball as it bounced over the try-line and after a TMO check the hosts had their first points of the game. Although Byrne was once again off colour from the tee leaving it at just 5-0.
Edinburgh came roaring back, camping inside the Leinster 22 for the next 15 minutes, winning penalty after penalty at scrum-time. Eventually the hosts had Bent sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes and a couple of minutes on things got worse.
Following a number of scrums the Scottish side managed to get the ball out to the right-hand side where they found themselves in a two on two situation that miss as winger James Farndale dived in for the try.
If Leinster thought things couldn’t get worse they were proved wrong as centre Joe Tomane followed Bent to the sin-bin after he slid into Farndale knee-first as the winger scored reducing Leinster to 13-men. Once the TMO review had taken place Jaco van der Walt knocked over the conversion to give the visitors a 7-5 lead.
Despite their disadvantage it was Leinster that took control for the remainder of the half and just as they got back their full compliment of players Bent barged over from close-range deep into the red zone and Byrne added the extras to give the hosts a 12-7 half-time lead.
Leinster began the second-half as they ended the first and just three minutes in they were over for their third try of the game with Doris barrelling over close to the line. Byrne made no mistake with his kick to push them further in front.
Five minutes on and the hosts replicated the score with Penny the one to push over the line this time around to secure the bonus-point. Bryne smashed over the conversion from in front of the posts to make it 26-7 with less than 10 minutes gone in the second period.
The boys in blue continued to push forward and were rewarded with little under 20 minutes left as they went through a few phases in the opposition 22 before substitute Abdaladze powered over to score his sides fifth try of the night. Byrne converted once again to give them another two points.
Leinster only had to wait little over a minute for their sixth try as their replacements began to shine. Jimmy O’Brien took the ball at pace inside his own half and darted through a gap before offloading to Lowe, who in turn offloaded brilliantly to Osbourne as he raced over to score his first try for the province.
Ross Byrne was replaced by brother Harry in between the two scores but the result was the same from the tee making it 40-7 with 15 minutes to go.
The visitors hit back with just under ten minutes remaining through replacement scrum-half Charlie Shiel who sprinted over off the back of a scrum five-metres out from the line. Simon Hickey converted with what turned out to be the final score of the game as it ended 40-14 to Leinster.
Next up for the reigning back to back champions is a trip to Zebre where they will look to maintain their 100% start to the season, while Edinburgh will play host the Scarlets in round four in two weeks time.
Leinster Player Ratings
Hugo Keenan (7), Dave Kearney (7), Rory O’Loughlin (7), Joe Tomane (8), James Lowe (7), Ross Byrne (7), Jamison Gibson-Park (9); Peter Dooley (7), Rónan Kelleher (7), Michael Bent (7), Devin Toner (7), Scott Fardy (8), Max Deegan (8), Scott Penny (8), Caelan Doris (7)
Leinster Change Three for Edinburgh Clash
Leinster have made a total of three changes to their team to face Edinburgh tonight
The changes see Dave Kearney come in on the right-wing, with Max Deegan starting at blindside-flanker and Scott Penny joins Deegan in the back-row making his first start of the season on the openside.
Otherwise it’s as you were with Peter Dooley opening in the front-row alongside last weekend’s hat-trick hero Ronan Kelleher and Michael Bent, as Devin Toner links up with captain Scott Fardy in the engine-room.
Deegan and Penny are on the flanks as mentioned above with the back-row being completed by the ever-improving Caelan Doris, who is at No 8.
Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne continue their impressive half-back partnership, with Joe Tomane and Rory O’Loughlin outside them in the midfield as they too look to continue a fine start to the season as a pair.
James Lowe retains his spot on the left-wing, with Kearney on the right as he looks to add to his hat-trick of tries from the opening weekend and Hugo Keenan completes the starting XV from full-back.
Once again Michael Milne and Harry Byrne take places on the bench as they both seek to get on for their third caps after impressing in the opening two games, with an experienced duo of James Tracy and Ross Molony also among the replacements.
Both the hosts and the away side have 100% records in the competition so far, however, Leinster put in a huge performance last weekend in what was there first home game of the season, blowing the Ospreys away 53-5 and will hope to pick up maximum points again as they bid to win a third PRO14 crown in a row.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
15. Hugo Keenan (7)
14. Dave Kearney (137)
13. Rory O’Loughlin (63)
12. Joe Tomane (15)
11. James Lowe (31)
10. Ross Byrne (73)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park (72)
1. Peter Dooley (63)
2. Rónan Kelleher (4)
3. Michael Bent (126)
4. Devin Toner (233)
5. Scott Fardy (45) CAPTAIN
6. Max Deegan (48)
7. Scott Penny (6)
8. Caelan Doris (18)
16. James Tracy (94)
17. Michael Milne (2)
18. Vakh Abdaladze (9)
19. Ross Molony (84)
20. Josh Murphy (23)
21. Rowan Osborne (1)
22. Harry Byrne (2)
23. Jimmy O’Brien (8)
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