Ulster A made it three bonus point wins from the opening three rounds of the Celtic Cup on Friday evening, thanks to a five try victory over Connacht at Eaton Park.
Connacht fly-half Conor Dean opened the scoring after just four minutes with a well struck penalty from just inside the Ulster half. Six minutes later, he extended his side’s lead with another penalty following a lineout infringement on the Ulster 22.
After some good periods of pressure, Ulster A broke through on 19 minutes. With Connacht penalised, Ulster opted to kick to the corner. Possession was secured, followed by a series of pick and drives before captain David McCann crashed over from close range. Bruce Houston slotted the conversion.
On 28 minutes Connacht were pinged again, and once more Houston kicked to the left corner. A few big carries from the Ulster forwards narrowed the Connacht defence then play was switched right, where full back Conor Rankin beat the cover to score. A heavy shower of rain didn’t prevent Houston firing over the conversion from near the touchline.
A couple of minutes before the interval, Ulster winger Ross Adair raced through for a superb individual try. After making the initial break on the Connacht 10m line, Adair ate up the open space before holding off the scrambling cover to reach over and touch down. Houston pulled his conversion attempt just to the right of the posts but the Ulster men went in holding a commanding 19-6 lead.
It was the visitors who started the second half the brighter once again, and lock Joe Maksymiw powered over the Ulster try line just five minutes after the restart, with Dean adding the extra two points.
The young Ulster men responded in quick-style fashion, as prop Peter Cooper muscled his way over from the base of a ruck for the home team’s fourth try. Houston confidently sent over the conversion to re-establish a 13 point lead.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Cooper crossed again for an almost identical effort to the left of the posts, leaving Houston with an elementary conversion.
The Ulster management team emptied the bench for the remaining stages and the replacements saw out the impressive win.
Commenting after the game, Ulster Coach Kieran Campbell said:
“It was a really positive performance. We were consistent in our performance, which was what we had targeted before the game. That allowed us to build good pressure, and in difficult conditions the boys understood their had to be a ball focus and eventually we cracked them. It wasn’t easy. Connacht defended doggedly and we had to bring that level of concentration and accuracy.
“I thought the other part of the performance that was really pleasing was the level of discipline in our ‘D’. We put a number of really good ‘D’ sets together which sucked the life out of Connacht a bit, drained them, and allowed us to get on top in defence as well.”
Ulster A team:
(15-9): Conor Rankin; Ross Adair, Hayden Hyde, Ben Power, Luke Pollock; Bruce Houston, Nathan Doak;
(1-8): Callum Reid, Zack McCall, Peter Cooper, Matthew Dalton, Jack Regan, Joe Dunleavy, David McCann (Capt), Azur Allison.
Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Paul Mullen, Jonny Blair, JJ McKee, Matthew Agnew, Aaron Hall, Lewis Finlay, Michael Stronge.
Connacht Eagles team:
(15-9): Oran McNulty; Hugh Lane, Seán O’Brien, Luke Carty, Peter Sullivan; Conor Dean, Aran Hehir;
(1-8): Conor Maguire, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Ryan Lomas, Niall Murray, Joe Maksymiw (C), Seán Masterson, Lucas Culliton, Mikey Wilson.
Replacements: Declan Adamson, Adam Burke, Adam Coyle, Cormac Daly, Hubert Costello, Evan Kenny, Shane Jennings, Diarmuid Kilgannen.
Ulster A’s Celtic Cup 2019/20 Fixtures:
Scarlets 32 Ulster A 35 – Saturday 24th August, 2.30pm, Llandovery RFC
Ulster A 32 Cardiff 5 – Saturday 31st August, 7.30pm, Malone RFC
Ulster A 33 Connacht 13 – Friday 6th September, 4.00pm, Ballymena RFC
Leinster v Ulster A – Saturday 14th September, 3.00pm, Energia Park
Dragons v Ulster A – Saturday 21st September, 2.30pm, venue TBC
Ulster A v Ospreys – Friday 27th September, 5.00pm, Malone RFC
Ulster A v Munster – Friday 4th October, 5.00pm, Shaw’s Bridge
Celtic Cup Final – Saturday 12th October