THE Dragons XV were once again on the losing end of an entertaining Celtic Cup clash after being beaten 43-31 by Ulster A in Ystrad Mynach.

The Rodney Parade region headed into the fixture on the back of losses to Welsh rivals Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets.

Just like in those defeats, they bagged a try bonus but could have no complaints about defeat to an Ulster side in good shape to take on Leinster in the final of the development competition.

The Dragons led 17-12 after playing with the wind at their backs in the first half but the Irishmen took control after the break to deservedly take the spoils.

The Dragons’ youngsters’ battling spirit will have pleased coach Luke Narraway – it was only as the clock ticked into the 70s that Ulster were comfortable in their lead – but their defence didn’t match their attack on the fast plastic track of their training base.

Of the starting XV full-back Will Talbot-Davies, fly-half Arwel Robson, lock Max Williams and back row forward Taine Basham had real shots at forcing their way into the matchday squad for the PRO14 opener in Limerick.

The chances of making an impression on Dean Ryan, who watched on from the balcony, were helped by Ulster being a far slicker unit than the young Munster team that was dismantled at Rodney Parade in the second week of the tournament.

The opening exchanges were predominantly between the 22s but the Dragons grew in confidence with scrum-half Daf Buckland and Robson forming a nice partnership.

And it was the 9 that opened the scoring in the 12th minute when he sniped over after a patient attack that had seen Basham and centre Connor Edwards go close. Robson added the extras.

A Talbot-Davies burst down the left, after a lovely pass by centre Aneurin Owen, nearly prompted a second only for his offload to go to ground.

Basham then blotted his copybook by seeing yellow for the second week running for an incident at a ruck close to the Ulster line.

The visitors made their numerical advantage count with a dashing counter-attack from turnover ball that ended with centre Ross Adair finishing off.

Fly-half Bruce Houston failed to master the Ystrad Mynach breeze in his bid to level the scores with the conversion but Robson’s aim was true to make it 10-5 after 26 minutes.

Ulster were in front on the half hour, just before Basham’s return, when an overthrown lineout and then a quick tap penalty resulted in a short-range try for blindside Aaron Hall that Houston converted for 12-10.

The Dragons conjured a half-chance just before the break when fast hands worked an opening for wing Rio Dyer but he couldn’t produce an athletic leaping rugby league style finish as the defence descended down the right.

However, the hosts’ scrum kept the pressure on to win a penalty and the decision by captain Ben Roach to opt for another set piece paid off with a penalty try and a 17-12 lead.

The Dragons had a chance to stretch further away just a minute after the restart only for Dyer to fling a wild pass after an arcing run into the 22.

Ulster were level when they shifted the ball to the left wing for Graham Curtis to go over – fortunately with his head still attached after the scrambling Dyer went high in his desperation to stop his opposite number – and Houston converted superbly to earn a 19-17 lead.

They were further ahead when they went over far too easily with a move off a scrum, centre Hayden Hyde putting Adair under the posts to make Houston’s extras a formality.

Back came the Dragons and Robson made the try for centre Aneurin Owen on the hour with a cute dink over the top with penalty advantage before adding the extras.

However, they weren’t in range for long with a lovely offload putting Adair over for his hat-trick try with Houston’s conversion making it 33-24.

They game swung the other end with Dyer bursting down the right before putting Talbot-Davies under the sticks for the bonus point, replacement fly-half Jacob Botica converting to make it 33-31 with 13 minutes left.

But the Dragons’ attack wasn’t matched by the defence and Ulster were over for their sixth through just keeping hold of the ball in the 22, eventually exploiting a gap through wing Luke Pollock.

Houston stretched the lead to nine points with seven minutes left and had the final say with a penalty.

Dragons XV: W Talbot-Davies, R Dyer, C Edwards, A Owen, J Goodchild, A Robson, D Buckland, J Cosgrove, E Shipp, C Coleman, E Scragg, M Williams, B Fry, B Roach (captain), T Basham.

Replacements: W Griffiths, J Reynolds, L Yendle, B Carter, G Price, D Babos, J Botica, C Penny.

Scorers: tries – D Buckland, penalty, A Owen, W Talbot-Davies; conversions – A Robson (2), J Botica; penalty – A Robson

Ulster scorers: tries – R Adair (3), A Hall, G Curtis, L Pollock; conversions – B Houston (5); penalty – B Houston