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Ulster 'A' 37-14 Leinster 'A': Five players who staked their claim for more game time in interpro victory

 

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Cormac Izuchukwu in action during Ulster A's win over their Leinster counterparts last month.

Cormac Izuchukwu in action during Ulster A's win over their Leinster counterparts last month.

©INPHO/James Crombie

Cormac Izuchukwu in action during Ulster A's win over their Leinster counterparts last month.

It's not often an Ulster side beats a Leinster side so comprehensively, but this was a strong performance from an 'A' side that showed lots of potential for the future.

Full-back Aaron Sexton crossed for two tries, while Callum Reid and Marcus Rea got one each, but who may be in line for some game time in the senior Ulster team after the 37-14 win?

Adam McKendry takes a look...

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Ulster 'A' centre Ben Carson is wrapped up in a double tackle by Leinster 'A' pair David Hawkshaw and Joe McCarthy (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster 'A' centre Ben Carson is wrapped up in a double tackle by Leinster 'A' pair David Hawkshaw and Joe McCarthy (INPHO/James Crombie)

©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 'A' centre Ben Carson is wrapped up in a double tackle by Leinster 'A' pair David Hawkshaw and Joe McCarthy (INPHO/James Crombie)

 

Ben Carson/Hayden Hyde

Hard to pick between the two, Ben Carson had the better of the first half but Hayden Hyde was better in the second. Together, they made a very intriguing centre partnership that constantly tormented their Leinster rivals.

Carson's footwork dazzled in the first half as he found gaps on multiple occasions, the former Wallace High man keen to avoid contact as much as possible which led to some scything carries up the middle, particularly in the red zone. Certainly adds a new dimension compared to some of the other centres in the Ulster system.

Meanwhile, after a more understated first half than his partner, Hyde announced himself on the game when he picked a sensational line for Aaron Sexton's first score of the afternoon, and then was busy throughout the remainder of the second 40 in front of his new Ireland Under-20s coach Kieran Campbell.

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With Stuart McCloskey away with Ireland over the next few months and Luke Marshall still injured, and with no Under-20s Six Nations due to the coronavirus, both players will be eyeing up a game with Ulster. While Stewart Moore and James Hume have the starting jerseys locked up, a bench spot isn't out of the question.

 

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Ulster 'A' fly-half Bill Johnston kicks a penalty in a flawless display from the tee (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster 'A' fly-half Bill Johnston kicks a penalty in a flawless display from the tee (INPHO/James Crombie)

©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 'A' fly-half Bill Johnston kicks a penalty in a flawless display from the tee (INPHO/James Crombie)

 

Bill Johnston

Played the game with a straight bat in the first half, but in the second half Bill Johnston came to life with some wonderful touches and ran the game with expert poise and control.

The pass was crisp, the tempo was high and he fired up a few contestable kicks as well, but the crowning moment was his perfectly judged outside of the boot dink to send Sexton over in the corner for his second. Taking the ball to the line hasn't always been his forte, but he did it superbly today.

Added all his kicks from the tee, including three incredible touchline kicks, for good measure, and it was clear to see that the Tipperary man, despite a lack of game time, is not short of confidence in his own ability. Not only that, but he was vocal throughout the game, a sign of a fly-half keen to call the shots.

A timely reminder that he is right in the mix for game-time at No.10 while Billy Burns heads away on Six Nations duty. While Ian Madigan has had the lion's share of starts while Burns has been unavailable, a performance like this will turn Dan McFarland's head for sure.

 

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Ulster 'A' lock Cormac Izuchukwu offloads to prop Gareth Milasinovich (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster 'A' lock Cormac Izuchukwu offloads to prop Gareth Milasinovich (INPHO/James Crombie)

©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 'A' lock Cormac Izuchukwu offloads to prop Gareth Milasinovich (INPHO/James Crombie)

 

Cormac Izuchukwu

Having scored against both Munster 'A' and the Connacht Eagles in December, with no live coverage it was tough to tell if Cormac Izuchukwu was impressing or if he was simply the fortunate one to score. If today's performance was anything to go by, it was very much the former.

Showing all his Sevens skillset, the rangy lock was excellent on offense, not only making yards after taking contact but always looking to keep the ball alive by looking for the offload. Plays a similar style of game to Leone Nakarawa, no doubt similarly honed through the Sevens circuit, although of course still needs his overall skills sharpened.

Athletically gifted and blessed with power, this was a barnstorming display - a senior debut is surely on the cards sooner rather than later. Iain Henderson will head to Ireland camp or will still be out injured, and there's definitely scope for him to move up a peg in the depth chart after this outing.

A mention for Conor McMenamin, who had a similarly excellent game at tighthead lock and was busy in the first half. Drifted off later in the match but still a fine performance from the other half of the second row.

 

Harry Sheridan

Normally a second row by trade, Harry Sheridan was put to work at blindside flanker and looked just as adept there as he is at lock.

While the Under-20s Six Nations have been postponed due to the coronavirus, the Sullivan Upper man has certainly done his chances of being included in the squad for when it is played no harm as he carried well throughout, while also managing a couple of big turnovers.

Will be interesting to see where Ulster believe his skillset is best suited moving forward as this was a good indication that he could play that hybrid lock/blindside role, and we know how much Ulster like players to have that versatility about their game. Still only 19, he has plenty of time to decide.

A mention too for Marcus Rea, who kept up his excellent scoring record against Leinster by scoring the final try of the game. Was quiet to begin but grew into proceedings and made his mark as it went on.

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Ulster 'A' captain David McCann carries over the top of Leinster 'A' fly-half David Hawkshaw of Leinster (INPHO/James Crombie)

Ulster 'A' captain David McCann carries over the top of Leinster 'A' fly-half David Hawkshaw of Leinster (INPHO/James Crombie)

©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster 'A' captain David McCann carries over the top of Leinster 'A' fly-half David Hawkshaw of Leinster (INPHO/James Crombie)

 

David McCann

Having already made his senior debut for Ulster, the expectation was that David McCann, the captain for the afternoon, would be the stand-out player, and yet somehow he still defied expectations.

Busy from the off, his early carries weren't as punchy or made as much impact as expected, but as the game went on McCann simply grew in stature. His turnover just before half-time to save a potentially sticky situation was not only perfectly timed but perfectly executed.

The second half saw him take his game to another level as his carrying only intensified, leaving would be tacklers trailing in his wake, while his breakdown work - phenomenal in this game - is clearly something he has worked on and improved since entering the Ulster system. A late offload to Tom O'Toole should have yielded another special try only for the tighthead to drop it.

A special talent. At some point Ulster will have to find room for him, no matter whose expense it's at. Will almost certainly get senior game time during the Six Nations, especially given there's no Under-20s tournament.

 

Belfast Telegraph


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