Man-of-the-match Aaron Sexton weighed in with two tries and Johnny Phillips finished with a handsome 17-point tally as Ulster ‘A’ defeated their Dragons counterparts 27-19 in the Celtic Cup at Ballymena RFC.
Captain by Ballymena's own Marcus Rea from number 8, the Ulster 'A' youngsters followed up on last week's hard-earned victory in Cardiff with another winning performance against Welsh opposition in the inaugural Irish-Welsh development competition.
Having scored what proved to be the match-winning score seven days ago, Aaron Sexton added to his tournament haul with a well-taken brace this afternoon. The 18-year-old Bangor Grammar School pupil has been capped by Ireland at Under-18 Clubs & Schools, Under-18 Schools and Under-18 Sevens levels.
Ulster 'A' had to wait until the 19th minute to open the scoring through the reliable right boot of former Ireland Under-20 out-half Johnny McPhillips who knocked over a penalty from the visitors' 22-metre line.
Dragons 'A' hit back with an unconverted try out wide from winger Deon Smith, which was followed by McPhillips' second successful penalty. Howver, the visitors responded again with a well-taken try from George Casson, with number 10 Jacob Botica nailing the difficult conversion from the right touchline.
Crucially, Ulster 'A' managed to sneak back ahead (13-12) six minutes before half-time thanks to Sexton's first score following some excellent phase play. The forwards carried aggressively to force their way into the opposition 22, before the ball was worked across the back-line for Sexton to finish. McPhillips matched Botica in drawing the extras over from the touchline.
Holding a slender but deserved advantage at Eaton Park, Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson's charges started the second half with obvious intent and were rewarded for their endeavour with an excellent try – their tenth of the tournament – just after the 50-minute mark.
The province had a lineout on the 10-metre line and the forwards produced a powerful maul to provide a strong platform for the young back-line once more. Lovely hands by the backs created space for Sexton and the multiple All-Ireland champion sprinter outpaced the cover to touch down in the left corner. McPhillips was unable to convert on this occasion.
Nonetheless, the impressive 21-year-old stand-off drilled two more penalties through the uprights after 62 and 77 minutes to open up a double-scores lead – 24-12. That should have been that, but the Dragons had more in the tank as they set up a grandstand finish.
Centre James Benjamin collected a well-weighted cross-field kick to score his team's third try of the afternoon, with the conversion closing the gap to five points. Fittingly, it was McPhillips who made the game safe for Ulster 'A', sending over his fifth penalty with the last kick of an entertaining encounter.
Referee: Robert O'Sullivan (IRFU)