Ulster A completed a hard fought 25 – 14 win against the Cornish Pirates in the British and Irish Cup at Shaws Bridge last night. The bonus point victory puts Ulster A in pole position in Pool 5, however a difficult trip to Llandovery to face a Scarlets PS awaits next weekend with Ulster A needing to pick up at least a point to secure qualification as Pool winners.

It’s been a good campaign from this tight young group who’s only blip came in this reverse fixture at Mennaye Field when they failed to pick up a losing bonus  by virtue of a last minute penalty by their hosts. At that time I was disappointed that they had brought in Schalk van der Merwe, Peter Nelson, Clive Ross and Craig Gilroy for a rehab runout, somewhat destroying the tight core of the side.

However, since then coach Kieran Campbell has absorbed Clive Ross and latterly Pete Browne into the core of this side, the pair adding significant class at this level, Gilroy has been returned to the “firsts” starting line up, van der Merwe has faded into obscurity and Nelson has found the level at which he needs to get a few more games. Don’t discard Nelson just yet, he’s had a difficult start to his professional career through injury, game time and expectation. He will mature into a fine player, given time and the opportunity to hone his talents.

For the first time, since the inception of this secondary competition, the Ulster A management team, under the guidance of Campbell and Willie Anderson, have worked hard to develop a strong core and a team ethos in the A side. You could call it a return to “pride in the shirt” but it’s more than that in that the bulk of these players are still, largely, embedded in the Ulster Club community. It still needs to go deeper – through every representative side in the province down to the U18 Boys and Girls. It’s something that the Logan led Professional Management Committee have failed to grasp as they scrimp and save on representative kits, squad depths, fixtures and  travel arrangements while they wantonly squanter huge sums on imports for the first team.

Anyway, back to the game!

The Pirates took an early lead with their big pack winning a penalty for out-half Laurence May to convert.

However Ulster were not to be denied and twinkle toes Rob Lyttle put on the afterburners to dive over in the corner for Ulster’s opening score. Pete Nelson converted and Ulster led 7 – 3.

Jack Owens and Aaron Cairns ran the ball back from the restart and, no slouch himself, John Andrew was on hand to run in the second try which went unconverted.

May landed a second penalty for the visitors before the break to take the score to 12 – 6 as the teams turned round.

The Pirates hit back with a try of their own shortly after resumption as winger Alex O’Meara gathered his kick ahead to score in the corner for an unconverted try.

However, Ulster responded almost immediately with Zac McCall charging down a clearance kick to restore Ulster’s six point lead.

Lyttle and May swapped penalties before Lyttle grabbed his second and Ulster’s fourth try five minutes from time, the score coming off the back of an attacking line out.

The visitors pushed for a losing bonus that would put them in a dangerous position in Pool 5 but the Ulster defence held firm to give a final score of Ulster A 25 Cornish Pirates 14. 

Ulster A: Jack Owens, Rob Lyttle, Callum Patterson, Rory Butler, Aaron Cairns, Peter Nelson, Jonny Stewart, Tommy O’Hagan, John Andrew, Ross Kane, Pete Browne, Clive Ross, Caleb Montgomery, Matthew Agnew, Marcus Rea. Replacements: Zack McCall, Tom O’Toole, Eric O’Sullivan, John McCusker, David Shanahan, Chris Swash, Angus Kernohan.

Photo credit – Bob Given PhotographyGraham Service Photography