The British and Irish Cup kicks off this weekend with Ulster A entertaining Scarlets Select at Banbridge Rugby Club on Saturday afternoon.

Last season’s competition was won by Munster A for the second time and since it’s inception in 2009-10 this is a competition that has been dominated by English and Irish teams, with four wins apiece. Unfortunately for Ulster, Ireland’s four wins have come from Munster (2) and Leinster (2) with Ulster’s best performance coming during that inaugural season with semi-final loss to Munster.

Since that semi-final appearance Ulster’s performance in this competition has been erratic. Granted there was a quarter final loss to Munster in 2011-12 and a quarter final loss, to Munster again, last season but in all the other seasons they failed to get out of their groups winning only 11 out of 29 matches in those five dismal years.

Ulster A/Ravens British and Irish Cup Record. 
2009-10 Semi-final loss to Munster
2010-11 5th in Pool, 1 win 4 losses
2011-12 Quarter-final loss to Munster
2012-13 2nd in Pool, 4 wins 2 losses.
2013-14 2nd in Pool, 3 wins 3 losses
2014-15 3rd in Pool, 1 win 5 losses
2015-16 3rd in Pool, 2 wins 4 losses
2016-17 Quarter-final loss to Munster

It’s really impossible to say what sort of season Ulster A are going to have in Pool 5 where they face Cornish Pirates and, English Championship newcomers, Hartpury RFC alongside the Scarlets Select, If previous seasons are any guide, the preparation of a settled group of players will be sporadic at best, with the management team only getting a couple of days preparation with the match day squad.

Bedford Blues Bristol Rugby Dragons Select Connacht A Cornish Pirates
Munster A Cardiff Blues Select London Scottish Roterham Titans Hartpury RFC
Nottingham Doncaster Knights Yorkshire Carnegie Richmond Scarlets Select
Ospreys Select Leinster A Jersey Reds Ealing Trailfinders Ulster A

We’ve watched the core what should be the A squad a couple of times this season though those sides have been predominantly U20’s player based. The Ulster Development side lost to and Ulster Club Select and to an experienced Munster Development side in early season run outs, but we’re expecting to see a more seasoned side turn out during the British and Irish Cup.

Younger players we are expecting to see involved are the exciting half back pairing of Johnny Stewart and Angus Curtis, with Zimbabwe born Curtis being the real deal in my opinion. Both still qualify for the Ireland U20’s and could be a partnership that goes a long way in the game.

Up front I’m looking for FRU Favourite Peter Cooper to get plenty of game time in the front row and Ireland U20’s players, of recent vintage, Marcus Rea, Jack Regan and Greg Jones should also feature as should Johnny McPhillips (when fit) and the wonderful Adam McBurney, who really should be delivering a big season.

Another player we have big exceptions for is young winger Mark Keane, who was a late call up to the U20’s in Georgia over the summer. Haven’t seen his name involved with any squads since then so I don’t know if he’s injured or not but if/when fit he should also feature.

As before the British and Irish Cup fixtures take place the same weekend as European Competition with Ulster A’s fixtures as follows:

Ulster A’s British & Irish Cup Pool Stage Games 2017/18

Round 1: Ulster A v Scarlets Select, Saturday 14th October at Banbridge RFC (2.30pm)
Round 2: Cornish Pirates v Ulster A, Sunday 22nd October at Mennaye Field, Penzance (2.30pm)
Round 3: Hartpury RFC v Ulster A, Saturday 9th December at Hartpury College (2.30pm)
Round 4: Ulster A v Hartpury RFC, Saturday 16th December at Ballymena RFC (2.30pm)
Round 5: Ulster A v Cornish Pirates, 12-14th January at Shaws Bridge (TBC)
Round 6: Scarlets Select v Ulster A, Saturday 20th January at Llandovery RFC (3.00pm)

Let’s hope Ulster A can find a bit of continuity this season and deliver those performances that several of their players have been promising over the years. It really could be an exciting little tournament.