Academy out-half Harry Byrne scored 18 points as Leinster ‘A’ kicked off the inaugural Celtic Cup with a stylish 43-28 bonus point win over Ulster ‘A’ at Malone RFC this evening.
The 19-year-old Byrne notched a try and kicked 13 points from the tee, with Scott Penny, Conor O’Brien and Ronan Kelleher also touching down to establish a 28-7 half-time lead for the visitors who had further tries from Jack Kelly (51 minutes) and replacement Dan Sheehan (77).
Leinster ‘A’ spurned their first scoring opportunity of this entertaining interprovincial clash when Byrne, younger brother of senior star Ross, dragged a penalty wide from the 10-metre line, following good work from the pack.
Another chance went a-begging on the 10-minute mark, full-back Hugo Keenan fielding a high kick and launching a counter attack, hooker Kelleher burst through some weak tackling into the 22 but centre O’Brien’s potential scoring pass to winger Kelly, on the overlap, did not go to hand.
Indeed, it was Ulster ‘A’ who broke the deadlock six minutes later after Leinster ‘A’ had knocked on at a ruck. From the resulting scrum, home centre James Hume came onto a crash ball and powered over from close range with Johnny McPhillips converting.
Byrne responded for last season’s British & Irish Cup runners-up in the 25th minute as the pack forced an attacking five-metre scrum, and following a number of phases, the ball was spun wide and the young number 10 had an easy run-in. He converted from a tight angle to make it seven-all.
Leinster ‘A’ really found their rhythm with three tries in the lead up the break. Scrum half Paddy Patterson made a sniping break from a ruck, Ed Byrne and Jack Dunne carried up close to the line before openside Penny barged over for Byrne to convert.
The influential out-half missed a penalty before converting O’Brien’s 37th-minute try, the Mullingar man dotting down after tighthead Vakh Abdaladze’s barnstorming break through the Ulster defence and try assist. The bonus point was secured when Kelleher went over following more pressure from the forwards.
The scores kept coming for Leinster ‘A’ on the resumption, with replacement Liam Turner’s 51st-minute break paving the way for O’Brien to go clear and feed the supporting Kelly who powered through the final defender to score in the corner – 33-7 with the conversion missed.
Replacement Matthew Rea grabbed the hosts’ second try after Greg Jones put him in under the posts with McPhillips converting. Captain Chris Henry’s break then set up teenage winger Aaron Sexton for a 59th minute converted score, cutting the gap to 33-21.
Although Byrne split the posts with a penalty, his Ireland Under-20 colleague Hume completed his brace with a well-taken intercept effort from his own half with 67 minutes on the clock. That also gave Ulster ‘A’ a bonus point, but eight points was as close as they got.
Leinster ‘A’ put the result beyond doubt with their sixth try in the 77th minute, the ball being worked through countless phases in the hosts’ 22 before reserve hooker Sheehan was propelled over from a few metres with Byrne again converting. Leinster ‘A’ host Cardiff Blues ‘A’ at Energia Park in round 2 next Saturday (kick-off 2pm).
REFEREE: Joy Neville (IRFU)