Ulster A completed their Celtic Cup campaign on Sunday afternoon with a 31 – 10 loss to the “Invincible” Leinster A side at Energia Park, Donnybrook in the Celtic Cup Final.
It was some campaign from the Leinster side, who recorded a bonus point win in every match, and their complete dominance of this tournament points towards continuing success for the D4 outfit for years to come.
Ulster A were the next best side with five wins from seven in the round robin league and five from 8 overall, including their final defeat against Leinster.
The overall stats for the top two sides are worth comparison, almost half of Ulster’s tries against conceded against Leinster who put 13 past Ulster in their two meetings.
That first meeting against Leinster, four matches in, saw Ulster conceded nine tries and score four. The defeat seemed to knock Ulster off thier stride and in the subsequent matches we covered they never really found the free flowing rugby that featured in their first three games.
In fairness they did outscore Dragons six tries to four in their next match but they struggled to put Ospreys away at Gibson Park before being outplayed at Shawsbridge by Munster in a disappointing performance. By that stage their appearance in the final was already guaranteed so maybe their minds were elsewhere.
Overall, I found it a very enjoyable tournament from an Ulster perspective, when they clicked they were very good indeed and they largely tried to play an exciting brand of rugby. Given the average age and experience, you could easily forgive a few mistakes if Leinster hadn’t set the bar so high.
There were plenty of positives and that gap is certainly not as wide as the stats above would indicate.
Coaches Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson named 37 players throughout the tournament. The bulk of the players, 28, came from the Academy and the club game with nine senior team players parachuted in for game time occasionally.
As the season got underway it was a balancing act between keeping the squad together, giving senior players much needed game time and club requirements but they largely got this difficult balancing act right with Academy and club players dominating, senior players accounting for less than 10% of the starts.
You can view all the players used in the drop-down below but we’ll give a shout out here to Bruce Houston, David McCann, Hayden Hyde and Jack Regan who started every game. Also of note is schoolboy Nathan Doak who was in all eight squads starting in seven and coming on as a replacement in the other.
Ulster A scored 208 points, with an average of 26 per match. The points came from 29 tries, 21 conversions ( 72.4% conversion rate) and 7 penalties.
Bruce Houston was the leading scorer with 63 points, the ever present out half doing a good job with the kicking duties.
There were three players tied on 5 tries each with David McCann, Peter Cooper and Ross Adair accounting for just over half of Ulster’s try total.
All Ulster’s scorers are shown below.
The Front Row Union Ulster Player of the Tournament.
I particularly enjoyed the performances from Cooper and Adair throughout the competition along with Rankin’s early run outs.
Doak looked as though he was born to it, which I suppose he was, but it was still a wonderfully composed series from the schoolboy.
Hyde impressed throughout and, overall, the bulk of the players gave me something to smile about as I sat down to edit the match photos throughout the tournament.
However, one player appeared in the background of more pictures than the rest, constantly on hand to provide support or lead the way, and that was “Captain Fantastic” David McCann who gets our nomination for the Ulster Player of the Tournament.