Despite scoring four tries, Ulster ‘A’ fell to an agonising 34-29 defeat at the hands of London Scottish in round 2 of the British & Irish Cup at the Athletic Ground.
London Scottish got off to a flying start with two early tries from inside centre Alec Coombes to open up a 12-0 lead after just eight minutes. Turnovers proved costly for the Ulstermen, with Coombes' midfield partner, Scottish captain Robbie Fergusson, making two telling breaks in the lead up to the touchdowns.
Ulster 'A' responded in impressive fashion a few minutes later when a five-metre lineout provided good attacking position, and after a good spell of passing and continuity, winger Robert Lyttle capitalised to dive over in the right corner. Full-back Johnny McPhillips added the extras in impressive fashion to make it 12-7.
Ulster then squared things up on the 21-minute mark when number 8 Lorcan Dow lunged over for an unconverted try from the base of an advancing scrum, with returning tighthead Wiehahn Herbst showing well in the set piece.
The home side went back in front when Craig Holland broke, leaving four Ulster 'A' defenders in his wake before being taken down inside the 22. Quick ball gave Scottish an overlap on the right and Fergusson – a lively runner throughout – stepped inside a tackler to raid in behind the points. Out-Half Harry Sheppard slotted the conversion and then added a penalty shortly afterwards for a 10-point advantage.
In the last play of the opening half, Ulster 'A' created an overlap of their own on the left where hooker John Andrew burst through to score. Half-backs Angus Lloyd and Brett Herron did the initial damage with a neat break and well-timed offload respectively, while replacement lock John Donnan and centre Mark Best kept the move going with crisp passing and Andrew was in the right place to finish.
McPhillips notched the conversion to leave it 22-19 at the interval in favour of the home side, and the Ireland Under-20 international knocked over a penalty in the 42nd minute to level matters again.
As Ulster 'A' continued to build momentum in attack, Andrew then grabbed his second try of the afternoon and the province's bonus point right on the hour mark. Tremendous chasing and harrying from Lyttle saw him win the ball back from Ben Rath and he darted into the Scottish 22 before offloading for the supporting Andrew to go over and McPhillips to convert – 29-22.
However, Scottish hit back just six minutes later when number 8 Ally Miller carried over impressively to put just two points between the sides, setting up a grandstand finish in front of an attendance of 906.
In the final 10 minutes both sides created opportunities courtesy of some fine attacking play, but it was the hosts who took their chance to steal the victory. Ulster 'A' had good reason to feel aggrieved as the Scottish loosehead clearly dropped his bind in a scrum, however referee Gareth Newman awarded a free-kick to the Londoners and their patient build-up play was rewarded when man-of-the-match Fergusson was freed up to score wide on the left. Craig Holland's conversion from the touchline gave Scottish a five-point lead with as many minutes remaining.
In the final exchanges Ulster 'A' had several phases within the opposition 22, but the Scottish defence held out to record the win and put themselves top of Pool 1.
The province, who are coached by Willie Anderson and Kieran Campbell, will resume their British & Irish cup campaign at home to the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select on Friday, December 9. Kick-off is 7pm at Ballymena RFC's Eaton Park.
Referee: Gareth Newman (Wales)