Ulster ‘A’ made it three wins on the bounce over Welsh opposition in the Celtic Cup with an astute 39-19 bonus point triumph over the Ospreys Development team in Bridgend.
Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson's charges continued their winning form from the past fortnight, their five-try haul including teenage winger Aaron Sexton's fourth score of the tournament. Former Ireland Under-18 Clubs & Schools captain Bruce Houston also kicked well from the tee with a 14-point haul.
Out-half Houston stroked home an early penalty from the edge of the 22 to open the scoring at the Morganstone Brewery Field. The Ospreys Development team answered back from the restart, making promising yards before scrum half Reuben Morgan-Williams threw a dummy to snipe over from the back of a grounded maul.
Cai Evans' conversion left it at 7-3 until Ulster 'A' closed out the first quarter with a converted try and a three-point lead. Number 8 Greg Jones carried hard up to five metres out and managed to get his offload away to prop Peter Cooper who showed impressive footwork and balance to make it over to the right of the posts, dragging two defenders with him.
The conversion was swept through the posts by Houston whose half-back partner Jonny Stewart got in on the scoring act with five minutes left in the opening half. Ulster 'A' broke downfield after an Ospreys Development try had been ruled out for a forward pass, and from a close-in scrum Jones fed Stewart who squeezed in at the right corner past the covering winger.
That try went unconverted, sending Ulster 'A' off at the interval with a 15-7 advantage. They did not have long to wait for try number three as the hosts lost tighthead Alex Jeffries to the sin-bin for repeated scrum infringements, and the province's captain Marcus Rea plunged over from a lineout maul with the visitors playing a penalty advantage.
The Ospreys outfit responded just four minutes later when they used an attacking scrum to work the ball wide to winger Dewi Cross who had enough time and space to dive over in the left corner. Out-half Josh Thomas clipped over a fine conversion to reduce the arrears to 22-14.
That brought the best out of the Ulstermen as they strung together two tries to end the tit-for-tat scoring between the sides. Jones again caught the eye with a jinking run towards the posts and prop Rodney Ah You burst onto Stewart's pass from the ruck to crash over between two defenders and bag the bonus point.
Houston converted and also added the extras to Sexton's effort which saw the Bangor flyer win the race to his own kick after an initial hack-on and harry of the defence by replacement scrum half Graham Curtis. The visitors were now 36-14 to the good but an ill-disciplined spell gave the Welsh region a significant numerical advantage.
There were successive yellow cards, including the temporary departure of Houston for a deliberate knock-on, and then try scorer Ah You was sent off for an infringement at the scrum. Ospreys Development captain Morgan Morris found a gap to score in the 73rd minute, but Ulster 'A' closed out the game in control, with the returning Houston slotting a drop goal from just outside the 22.
Giving his post-match reaction, Ulster 'A' head coach Kieran Campbell said: “I thought it was a really competitive game. To be fair to the Ospreys, they stretched us and played with a lot of width, a nice brand of rugby. But we probably just had that bit of dominance in our pack tonight and they found it difficult to curtail our momentum there, with the pack creating opportunities to set up attacks and take the game away from them.”
With just next Sunday's final round trip to Connacht Eagles remaining for Ulster 'A', Campbell acknowledged how pleased he has been with how his young squad have grown into the Irish-Welsh development competition in recent weeks.
He added: “We were disappointed with our opening two performances, in the respect that we felt we were below par and got well beaten. The last two weeks we've built a bit of momentum with two really solid performances and we've raised it another level tonight. Now the challenge is to make sure we bring it again next week and finish the campaign off on a high.”
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)