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Cooper's brace brings Eagles down

Ulster 'A' 33 Connacht Eagles 13

Barging through: Ulster’s Peter Cooper is tackled by Joe Maksymiw and Dylan Tierney-Martin of the Connacht Eagles
Barging through: Ulster’s Peter Cooper is tackled by Joe Maksymiw and Dylan Tierney-Martin of the Connacht Eagles

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster 'A' have made another clear statement of intent regarding their Celtic Cup credentials by managing a third bonus point win from the same number of games.

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Their five-try victory over Connacht Eagles at Ballymena's Eaton Park saw prop Peter Cooper bag two of the touchdowns and make sure of the result after head coach Kieran Campbell's side had fought back to lead 19-6 at the break.

Ulster's other tries were scored by flanker and captain David McCann, full-back Conor Rankin and winger Ross Adair.

This was Connacht's first defeat in the competition after two opening wins with this season's cup being played out in a new format of a straight league, of eight sides from Ireland and Wales, with the top two then moving to the final.

Ulster had their 13-point lead at half-time after McCann, Rankin and Adair got touchdowns for the home side.

Ulster fell behind early on when out-half Conor Dean kicked two penalties but then came back to take the lead with a converted try.

McCann worked his way over the Connacht line from short range with Houston's conversion taking Ulster 'A' 7-6 in front.

Campbell's side then added 12 unanswered points before the opening half was done.

Rankin and Adair scored tries, just as they had done a week ago in the victory over Cardiff, at Gibson Park, with Houston kicking just the one conversion.

Adair's was the pick of the bunch as the Ballynahinch player dotted down for a great individual score which saw him beat several defenders.

Houston, though, missed the extras.

The second half saw Connacht open up by scoring their only try before Ulster pulled away and clock up their bonus point thanks to the first of Cooper's brace - both scores came from powerful close-in drives with the ball being grounded near the posts - with Connacht's try being credited to hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin.

Houston converted both Cooper's efforts to end the game with eight points from four conversions.

Ulster are at Dublin's Energia Park (formerly known as Donnybrook) next Saturday to take on Leinster.

Reacting to the result Campbell said: "It was a really positive performance.

"In difficult conditions the boys understood they had to be focused.

"It wasn't easy as Connacht defended doggedly and we had to bring that level of concentration and accuracy.

"I thought the other part of the performance which was really pleasing was the discipline in our defence," added the Ulster head coach.

"We put some good 'D' sets together which sucked the life out of Connacht."

Ulster 'A': C Rankin, R Adair, H Hyde, B Power, L Pollock; B Houston, N Doak; C Reid, Z McCall, P Cooper, M Dalton, J Regan, J Dunleavy, D McCann (capt), A Allison

Replacements: C Milligan, P Mullen, J Blair, JJ McKee, M Agnew, A Hall, L Finlay, M Stronge

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