One professional Ulster Rugby side did record a win this weekend as Ulster A progressed to the knockout stages of the British and Irish Cup with a gritty 13 – 24 win against Scarlets Premiership select at Llandovery on Saturday afternoon.
This win could actually be Ulster Rugby’s most significant result of the weekend. For too often the powers that be ignored first the Ravens, and then Ulster A, using those matches primarily as a warm up for returning players. Over the years campaigns were destroyed by limited preparation time and the parachuting in of various players at the last minute as all resources and efforts in Ulster Rugby focused on the senior side.
Thankfully, the Ulster A Management Team of Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson have kicked back and they have started to restore some pride in the representative jersey, at this level at least. Over the last two seasons they have been comparatively successful with Ulster A qualifying for the knockout stages of this competition for two seasons running.
Make no mistake, this was a good win in the heart of rugby country deep in the Welsh Valleys.
Ulster set out their stall early with Clive Ross going over from close range for the opening try. Peter Nelson converted and he was on hand to knock over a penalty to give Ulster a 0 – 10 lead in the first ten minutes.
Scarlets hit back about five minutes later with Corey Baldwin chasing down a grubber to score a try converted by Jacob Botica and despite going down to 14 men for a late challenge on Jonny Stewart the home side drew level but Bottica knocking over a penalty.
Ulster did take advantage of thier extra man moments later with a penalty try awarded after a maul was brought down close to the posts to give Ulster a 10 – 17 lead as the teams changed ends.
Just before the Scarlets were back to a full complement, Nelson took Ulster up to the 5m line, then a lineout maul drive forced a penalty try to leave Ulster 10 – 17 ahead at the break.
Botica pulled back three points with another penalty before Ulster pulled clear on the hour mark. Once again it was a lineout maul and this time John Andrews claimed the score, Nelson converting.
Conditions warranted little open play and the teams scrapped out the remainder of the game in the middle of the park, Ulster holding on for the hard won win.
Unfortunately other results conspired to leave Ulster as the 5th highest seed which means they will be on the road for their quarter final match against Bedford Blues. There is still a bit of a wait until the full schedule of knock out games are published with the, still live, fixture between the Cornish Pirates and Hartpury RFC to be played in early March.
Picture credit – Mary Pipkin.