20 Dec, 16:42
Ireland Women's captain Fiona Coghlan, who led the squad to an historic Grand Slam in 2013, has won the Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year award.
AIRONI RUGBY (11th) v ULSTER (6th), Stadio Zaffanella, 7.05pm local time/6.05pm Irish time (live Dahlia TV/BBC Sport NI website)
Team News: Ulster travel to face Aironi Rugby in Viadana this weekend and the province's coach Brian McLaughlin has made five changes in personnel to the team that beat the Ospreys 27-26 in a hard-fought league opener at Ravenhill.
Up front, there are four changes of personnel and one positional switch. Tom Court and Chris Henry make their first Ulster starts having toured with Ireland in the summer, while Rory Best and Stephen Ferris are rested as part of the IRFU's player management programme.
Court comes into the front row at the expense of Bryan Young who drops to the replacements bench, while Nigel Brady assumes the hooker role ahead of Andi Kyriacou.
The second row pairing of Johann Muller, who will captain the side, and Tim Barker is unchanged.
In the back row, Pedrie Wannenburg moves from number 8 to the blindside flank to cover for the rested Ferris, Willie Faloon reverts to the bench to make way for Henry at openside and Robbie Diack, a replacement against the Ospreys, starts this time at number 8.
Amongst the backs, McLaughlin has kept faith with is young back three of Adam D'Arcy, Tommy Seymour and David McIlwaine, while Darren Cave has a new centre partner in Paddy Wallace, another Ireland summer tourist making his first start of the campaign.
Jamie Smith is a welcome inclusion on the province's bench, having recovered from the eye injury he sustained in the opening pre-season friendly against Bath recently.
Ulster out-half Niall O'Connor, who kicked 17 points against the Ospreys, is expecitng a tough challenge from Aironi.
"It's certainly going to be a tough game, they have a hugely physical pack, they have a big midfield and of course (Ludovic) Mercier at number 10 has been around a long time and has a wealth of experience from the Premiership," he said.
"We are under no illusions. We're expecting a very tough game but hopefully we can go there and get the job done."
Meanwhile, Aironi boss Franco Bernini has kept faith with the team that tested Munster last weekend, making no changes for the Italian side's opening home match in the Magners League.
Experienced hooker Fabio Ongaro has recovered from the thumb injury he suffered against Munster and will link up in the the front row with Alberto De Marchi and Salvatore Perugini.
Team captain Quintin Geldenhuys and Carlo Del Fava, who spent two years playing for Ulster and skippered the side for part of the 2008/09 season, are the locks, with Jaco Erasmus, Gareth Krause and ex-Munster number 8 Williams forming the back row.
However, there are several changes to the Aironi replacements bench, where Italian internationals Josh Sole and Pablo Canavosio make their first appearances of the season after recovering from injury. Hooker Luigi Ferraro and prop Luca Redolfini have also made the matchday squad.
AIRONI RUGBY: Julien Laharrague; Giulio Tonionlatti, Roberto Quartaroli, Dylan des Fountain, Giulio Rubini; Ludovic Mercier, Tito Tebaldi; Alberto De Marchi, Fabio Ongaro, Salvatore Perugini, Carlo Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys (capt), Jaco Erasmus, Gareth Krause, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Andrea De Marchi, Luigi Ferraro, Luca Redolfini, Marco Bortolami, Josh Sole, Pablo Canavosio, Alberto Benettin, Gabriel Pizarro.
ULSTER: Adam D'Arcy; Tommy Seymour, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, David McIlwaine; Niall O'Connor, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Paddy McAllister, Ryan Caldwell, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Ian Whitten, Jamie Smith.
Referee: David Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Stefano Penne, Stefano Roscini (both Italy)
Television Match Official: Giulio Romano (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Aironi Rugby to win: 11/8; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 4/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Johann Muller (Ulster) - "Nothing can be taken from granted. You only have to look at Treviso's win over Scarlets last week to see how important being at home can be. And Aironi will be looking to that win as they go forward to this week's game.
"We saw how they (Aironi) played against Munster last Saturday and from that we know just what to expect, and you can add a bit more to that given this will be their first home game in the Magners League.
"I think if everyone thought the Ospreys game was a big tough physical battle, then we can probably double that for what we get in Italy.
"They are a much better side than people give them credit for, a full international pack of forwards, so for us it another huge challenge to get up there again and back up our opening win.
"We were about 60% last week, in terms of performance. But we got the win, we ground it out and I know from talking to the players and coaches here that last season it may have been a game they would have lost if things were as tight.
"We will show improvements again this week, and we need a good result off a good performance. It does not matter what they bring to the party, it is about us, what we bring and it is important we start building and continue to make those steps in the right direction.
"People have to realise that it takes time to develop things such as the scrum and lineout. It is not just a matter of setting the scrum and getting on with it.
"This team needs to get know each other again, it is not just an overnight process. It may not be until the middle of the season that we are right where we want to be.
"But as long as we keep showing the progress we have made over the pre-season and last week, and we continue to go in the right direction, then that is progress."
Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) - "It is basically going to be for us what is like for other teams coming to Ravenhill. Their supporters are fanatics about the game and this is their first home game in the league. They will be ready for us there is no doubt.
"But we simply have to be ready for them. It is another big challenge and having seen them play against Munster last week we have a fair idea what to expect.
"They will be aggressive and physical, they played exceptionally well against Munster. They have a solid pack, and could probably pick a full international set of forwards, and they are directed well by (Ludovic) Mercier at out-half.
"You have to remember they went to Cork last weekend, which was important in the outcome and you only have to look at Treviso's victory over Scarlets in Italy to know how importance home advantage can mean."
Top Scorers - 2009/10 Magners League: Aironi Rugby - Points: Ludovic Mercier 12; Tries: Julien Laharrague 1; Ulster - Points: Niall O'Connor 17; Tries: Stephen Ferris, Darren Cave 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
- Stadio Zaffanella in Viadana becomes the 34th different venue to stage a Magners League game
- Aironi Rugby made their bow with a 33-17 reversal at the hands of Munster at Musgrave Park last Saturday
- Just one previous Irish team has visited Stadio Zaffanella. Munster did so in the 2002/03 Heineken Cup, returning home with a 55-22 victory over Viadana
- Ulster have won their last three Magners League matches but have not begun a season with successive victories since the 2006/07 campaign
- The Ulstermen have won all four of their previous encounters with Italian sides, all against Benetton Treviso