The Ulster Ravens secured their British & Irish Cup semi-final place with a tremendous ten-try 62-0 victory over Aberavon at Ravenhill on Friday.
BRITISH & IRISH CUP – POOL C: Friday, March 12
ULSTER RAVENS 62 ABERAVON 0, Ravenhill
Scorers: Ulster Ravens: Tries: Ian Whitten, Declan Fitzpatrick, Robbie Diack, Bryn Cunningham, Cillian Willis, Tommy Seymour 2, Michael Allen, Mark McCrea, Ian Humphreys; Cons: Niall O’Connor 6
The Ulster Ravens had little difficulty in getting the result they required to finish top of Pool C and qualify for the last-hour of the British & Irish Cup.
Welsh side Aberavon were no match for Neil Doak’s fired-up side, who scored 31 points in each half and conceded none.
They had five tries on the board by the break, with centre Ian Whitten, prop Declan Fitzpatrick, number Robbie Diack, fit-again full-back Bryn Cunningham and scrum half Cillian Willis all crossing the visitors’ whitewash.
The Ravens got off to the perfect start, four minutes in, when Aberavon out-half Jamie Davies was tackled by home winger Tommy Seymour and he did well to wrestle the ball clear for Whitten to pounce on it just before the end-line.
Number 10 Niall O’Connor converted and he knocked a kickable penalty into touch in the 18th minute, before Neil McComb won the lineout and a secondary drive saw Declan Fitzpatrick force his way over the try-line. The conversion was added by O’Connor.
In the 27th minute, another catch and drive effort put Diack clear down the blindside and the big South African crossed in the left corner for the Ravens’ third try.
Aberavon number 8 Rory Gallagher was then sin-binned for persistent infringements at ruck time, and the hosts showed no mercy as newcomer Scott La Valla took the ball before it was flashed wide for promising centre Michael Allen to slip past a defender on the outside and Cunningham followed up to complete a three-man overlap and grab the Ravens’ bonus point try.
Just before half-time, Aberavon leaked a fifth try. With their blindside flanker Darryl Thomas yellow carded, the Welsh side were coming under increasing pressure and they could not hold out as Willis, having been stopped just short, was driven over the line by his pack.
O’Connor’s conversion put 31 points between the sides, and it was just reward for the hard-working Ravens for whom Cunningham, who was making his return from a long term hamstring injury, enjoyed a satisfying run-out before being replaced by youngster Chris Cochrane.
The second half was as one-sided as the first. Two tries from Tommy Seymour, who took his tally for the competition to four, and another from promising centre Michael Allen saw the Ravens crash through the 50-point mark.
A break by captain Andi Kyriacou set up Seymour for his first, and he was over again two minutes later following good approach work from Allen.
Allen himself was next to score in the 52nd minute, as a high ball was taken in the midfield and moved out to the right.
Bryan Young linked with Seymour who straightened the attack, cutting through the Welsh defence and making good ground before passing to Allen who outpaced the cover and scampered in behind the posts. O’Connor’s successful conversion made it 50-0.
Winger Mark McCrea and replacement Ian Humphreys also helped themselves to tries, while out-half O’Connor, the Ulster outfit’s top scorer throughout the Pool C campaign, landed six conversions in all.
McCrea’s effort came while Aberavon skipper Liam Gadd was in the sin-bin for a high tackle. Willis put McCrea in the clear for an unconverted try.
With 11 minutes remaining, Aberavon were denied a try as winger Chris Lewis was called back for an offside. The Ulster side responded with their tenth try of the game – Humphreys showed a clean pair of heels to the visitors’ defence, racing in behind the posts for a try which O’Connor converted.
The result also saw the Ravens enter the record books as it was the biggest win recorded in the first season of British & Irish Cup rugby.
As Pool C winners, Ulster join the Cornish Pirates (Pool A), Munster (Pool B) and Doncaster Knights (Pool D) in the semi-finals of the inaugural British & Irish Cup.
The semi-final draw is scheduled to be made on Wednesday, March 24.
The first and third teams drawn will receive home advantage in the semi-finals, which will be played over the weekend of April 23-25.
A further draw will then take place between the two semi-finals to determine which of the potential finalists will have home advantage if they progress to the final (Sunday, May 16).
ULSTER RAVENS: Bryn Cunningham; Mark McCrea, Michael Allen, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour; Niall O’Connor, Cillian Willis; Bryan Young, Andi Kyriacou (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Ed O’Donoghue, Thomas Anderson, Scott La Valla, Robbie Diack.
Replacements used: Chris Cochrane for Cunningham (half-time), Dan Tuohy for O’Donoghue (42 mins), Paul Karayiannis for Fitzpatrick (54), Mark Robinson for Diack (58), Paul Marshall for Willis (61), Ian Humphreys for Allen (62). Not used: Nigel Brady.
ABERAVON: Marc Bennett; Richard Thomas, Liam Gadd (capt), Chris Tossell, Chris Lewis; James Davies, David Pritchard; Mike Harris, Brett Thomas, Paul Breeze, Aaron Bray, Gavin Ronan, Darryl Thomas, Ben Thomas, Rory Gallagher.
Replacements used: Ian Poley for Harris (half-time), Dan Davies for Lewis, Gareth Harvey for B Thomas (both 48 mins), Neil White for Harris (55).
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)