Ospreys took flight early into the encounter with Dan Biggar slotting over a penalty on four minutes, matched by his opposite number Niall O'Connor with 11 minutes gone. A great aerial take from D'Arcy seconds later raised the first huge Ravenhill roar of the season, and neat play from Ulster soon won a second penalty just within the Ospreys 10-metre line. O'Connor missed, but Ulster kept the momentum with a great Wannenburg surge and soon won a third successive penalty.
Ulster elected for the line-out and, although Rory Best's throw initially eluded everyone, both friend and foe, Stephen Ferris proved to be the most alert man on the park, scooping up the loose ball and running over unopposed for Ravenhill's first competitive try of the season. O'Connor converted to set the score at Ulster 10 Ospreys 3.
The out-half was on hand again on 24 minutes to extend the lead further with an expertly-taken penalty from barely within the visitors' half. Biggar reduced the deficit two minutes later with a penalty of his own, but Ospreys were soon down to 14 men with Nikki Walker yellow-carded for taking out McIlwaine while he was in the air. Hesitant Ulster defending on the half-hour mark, however, allowed Ospreys wing Richard Fussell to ground in the corner and restore parity at Ulster 13 Ospreys 13.
A sprightly dash from Paul Marshall shortly after the restart regained some good territory, and a series of structured attacks culminated in Darren Cave pounding his way over the line for the second home try with 36 minutes on the clock. O'Connor's conversion attempt spun just shy of the left-hand post, and Ospreys again clawed their way back up the scoreboard with a third Biggar penalty just before half-time.
Half-Time Score Ulster 18 Ospreys 16
The second half started ideally for Ulster with another O'Connor penalty, but soon took a downward spiral when two individual errors let Biggar in for a try in the left-hand corner. The out-half converted his own score and upset the balance at Ulster 21 Ospreys 23 on 45 minutes.
After a long-range O'Connor penalty missed the target on 51 minutes, Ulster regrouped and the out-half was able to atone only minutes later, putting his side back in front with a sweetly-struck kick from just inside the Welsh 10-metre line. The pendulum swung back in Ospreys' favour, though, just after the hour mark with another Biggar penalty making it Ulster 24 Ospreys 26.
With a grandstand finish on the cards, Ulster bared their fangs first and patiently chipped away at the Ospreys defence, getting to within inches of the try-line before being penalised for not staying on their feet in the ruck. Undeterred, Ulster soaked up the ensuing Ospreys pressure, and when the chance came on 72 with the visitors penalised for failing to retreat, O'Connor stepped up and slotted his team back into the lead at Ulster 27 Ospreys 26.
If the mission for the remaining minutes was to contain the Ospreys' firepower and hang on for the victory, Ulster stuck to the task manfully, with Marshall's boot finally putting the tie out of Ospreys' reach after a protracted scrum which ran well into injury time.
Full-Time Score Ulster 27 Ospreys 26
(15 - 9) A D'Arcy, T Seymour, D Cave, I Whitten, D McIlwaine, N O'Connor, P Marshall
(1 - 8) B Young, R Best (c), D Fitzpatrick, J Muller, T Barker, S Ferris, W Faloon, P Wannenburg
Replacements (16 - 22) N Brady, T Court, P McAllister, R Caldwell, R Diack, I Porter, P Wallace, J Shiels
(15 - 9) G Owen, N Walker, S Parker, A Bishop, R Fussell, D Biggar, J Nutbrown
(1 - 8) R Bevington, M Davies, C Griffiths, I Gough, I Evans, J Collins (c), M Holah, J Thomas
Replacements (16 - 22) H Bennett, P James, D Jones, J Goode, B Lewis, R Webb, L Byrne, S Williams
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|
|Ospreys Score Card|