The Ulster Under-18 Clubs team saw off the valiant efforts of Connacht, winning 34-24 in a thrilling PwC IRFU U-18 Men’s Clubs Interprovincial Championship opener at Energia Park.
PWC IRFU UNDER-18 MEN’S CLUBS INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1: Sunday, August 22
CONNACHT U-18 CLUBS 24 ULSTER U-18 CLUBS 34, Energia Park, Donnybrook
Scorers: Connacht U-18 Clubs: Tries: Hugh Gavin 2, Rory Glynn, Charlie Naughton; Cons: DJ Hession 2
Ulster U-18 Clubs: Tries: Ethan Graham 2, Ben Gibson 2, Nathan Hook; Cons: Ben Gibson 3; Pen: Ben Gibson
HT: Connacht U-18 Clubs 10 Ulster U-18 Clubs 21
Two tries each from Ethan Graham and Ben Gibson spurred Ulster to a bonus point victory, with their exciting back-line play creating many scoring opportunities.
A bit of individual brilliance from Monaghan full-back Graham, who followed up his own grubber kick, was the real eye-catching score of the afternoon.
Connacht, who trailed 21-10 at half-time, gave a really good account of themselves with two-try Galwegians centre Hugh Gavin being their standout performer.
Some strong carries from replacement John Hughes, Blayze Molloy and Max Flynn in the closing stages got them in a good position to score, which they did through Charlie Naughton, making for a tight finish.
However, Connacht failed to secure possession from the restart, and it was Ulster who confirmed their winning start to the tournament by releasing Dromore winger Nathan Hook for the left corner.
The game had burst into life during an end-to-end opening quarter, both sides getting on the scoreboard early on and showing their capabilities with ball in hand.
Influential Bangor out-half Gibson, who finished with a handsome 19 points, followed up on Michael Burnett’s break from his own half to put Graham over for a well-taken seventh-minute try.
Gibson supplied a slick standside conversion, and just a few minutes later, he profited from the ball squirting out of a ruck to superbly run in another converted try for a 14-0 lead.
Connacht showed no signs of panicking, and with their lineout play a real strength early on, out-half Ryan Roache fired a penalty right up to the corner flag.
They kept the ball nice and tight from the set piece, before a Rory Glynn pick-and-go got the westerners over for their first try, making it 14-5 at the water break.
Nonetheless, Daryl Maxwell’s Ulster youngsters extended their lead straight after the short stoppage. Graham’s pace proved too much as, from his own break, he kicked through and regathered the ball to score a brilliant individual try.
Gibson added the extras again before Connacht’s backs began to ask questions of the Ulster defence, the hard running of Gavin, in particular, doing some damage.
Just before the interval, their captain Flynn, from Corinthians, charged off the back of a close-in scrum. He linked with Gavin who crossed from close range, reducing the gap to 21-10.
The second half was really evenly matched. Gavin, a real talisman for Connacht, increased his influence with a second sharply-finished score.
The set piece was working really well for Conor Galvin’s team. A strong scrum gave them the attacking platform, replacement Naughton feeding Gavin on a hard line as he closed the margin to just four points.
Yet, any time Connacht seemed to get close to their opponents, Ulster were able to find a quick response. Some lovely back-line play and a little show-and-go from Gibson bagged their bonus point score and a 26-17 advantage.
Although a Gibson penalty made it a 12-point game, Naughton’s bonus point effort for Connacht, in the final 10 minutes, gave Galvin’s charges a late shot at glory.
Frustratingly, they were unable to get the ball back and it was Ulster, the first round table toppers, who created an overlap for Hook’s diving finish out wide.
CONNACHT U-18 CLUBS: Cody Farrell (Galwegians RFC/St. Paul’s Oughterard); Cathal Kelly (Ballina RFC), Sean Fox (Galway Corinthians RFC/Calasanctius College), Hugh Gavin (Galwegians RFC/Colaiste Iognaid), Cormac Lyons (Westport RFC/Sancta Maria College); Ryan Roache (Galwegians RFC/St. Paul’s Oughterard), Joey Tierney (Ballinasloe RFC/Garbally College); Oisin Dolan (Buccaneers RFC/Athlone CC), Ronan Lydon (Galwegians RFC/CC Roscrea), Charlie Byrne (Buccaneers RFC/Marist College), Conor Ryan (Ballinasloe RFC/Garbally College), Rory Glynn (Galway Corinthians RFC/CC Roscrea), Blayze Molloy (Ballina RFC/St. Muredach’s College), Robbie Byrne (Buccaneers RFC/The King’s Hospital), Max Flynn (Galway Corinthians RFC/CC Roscrea) (capt).
Replacements: Charlie Leonard (Galway Corinthians RFC/Colaiste Iognaid), Lee Kilcoyne (Creggs RFC/CBS Roscommon), John Hughes (Corrib RFC/Yeats College), Ryan Gaughan (Galway Corinthians RFC/Colaiste Bhaile Chlair), Alistair Hill (Sligo RFC/Sligo Grammar School), Ben Matheson (Ballina RFC/St. Muredach’s College), DJ Hession (Creggs RFC/CBS Roscommon), Charlie Naughton (Ballinasloe RFC/CC Roscrea).
ULSTER U-18 CLUBS: Ethan Graham (Monaghan RFC); Harry Hughes (Coleraine GS/Coleraine RFC), James Girvan (RS Dungannon/Dungannon RFC), Michael Burnett (City of Armagh RFC) (capt), Nathan Hook (Dromore HS/Dromore RFC); Ben Gibson (Bangor GS/Bangor RFC), Oliver Smyth (BRA/Academy RFC); Nathan Ogborne (Coleraine GS/Ballymoney RFC), Sam Green (Malone RFC), Tom McCalister (Ballyclare HS/Ballyclare RFC), Luke McIlwrath (Ballyclare HS/Ballyclare RFC), Mark Lee (Rainey Old Boys RFC), Jamie Jackson (Portadown College/Portadown RFC), James Spence (Ballyclare HS/Ballyclare RFC), James McKillop (Foyle College/City of Derry RFC).
Replacements: Sam Anderson (RS Armagh/Portadown RFC), Blake McClean (RBAI), Stephen Callaghan (Inishowen RFC), Bryn McCallan (Ballyclare HS/Ballyclare RFC), Tom Muldrew (Sullivan Upper/Malone RFC), Clark Logan (Coleraine GS/Ballymoney RFC), Jordan McAuley (Coleraine GS/Ballymoney RFC), Zach Scarlett (Ballyclare HS/Ballyclare RFC), Ruairi Doyle (Friends’ School/Lisburn RFC), Leon Thornton (Malone RFC).