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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Aironi Rugby

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Aironi Rugby

Ulster are looking to complete the second half of an Italian double by beating Aironi in Belfast on Friday, as they continue their challenge for a semi-final place in the RaboDirect PRO12.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 30

ULSTER (5th) v AIRONI RUGBY (12th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland /TG4)

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Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has once again made several changes to his starting line-up for their RaboDirect PRO12 fixture against Aironi at Ravenhill.

Ulster welcome back Ireland trio Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Stephen Ferris following their exploits in the RBS 6 Nations.

Lewis Stevenson’s fine form in recent weeks has been rewarded with a starting place in the second row alongside captain Johann Muller. Dan Tuohy is named on the bench as a result.

Pedrie Wannenburg has recovered from the illness which ruled him out of last weekend’s trip to Treviso, so he will earn his 50th Ulster cap in front of the Ravenhill faithful.

The South African is joined in the back row by Ferris and Chris Henry, who moves from the blindside to the openside flanker berth.

The half-back and centre partnerships remain unchanged as McLaughlin looks for a settled team ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster on Easter Sunday.

The return of Trimble means Craig Gilroy switches to the left wing and Stefan Terblanche moves to full-back at the expense of Adam D’Arcy.

Ticket sales for Friday’s game have already passed the 8,500 mark but tickets are still available. They can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com or by calling the ticket office on 02890493222 (ticketing option). Alternatively, you can pay at the gate on match night.

Meanwhile, Aironi head coach Rowland Phillips has made a number of changes to the team that lost 29-6 in Glasgow last weekend.

Italian international Tito Tebaldi returns to his usual position at scrum half, pairing up with Naas Olivier. Giulio Toniolatti will play at full-back, while young winger Giovanbattista Venditti, who turned 22 earlier this week, is back on club duty after his two tries for Italy during the Six Nations.

Sinoti Sinoti stays on the opposite wing, with Matteo Pratichetti and Roberto Quartaroli pairing up again in the centre.

In the pack, only the second row remains unchanged, with captain and former Ulster lock Carlo del Fava and George Biagi retaining their starting places.

With Nick Williams and Josh Sole still sidelined and Simone Favaro also out injured, Mauro Bergamasco will play at number 8 with Nicola Cattina and Joshua Furno in the flanker roles.

In the front row tighthead prop Fabio Staibano makes a welcome return. Alberto de Marchi will play at loosehead with Fabio Ongaro the starting hooker.

Antonio Denti, who made his league debut against Glasgow, is listed among the replacements along with the likes of Salvatore Perugini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Tyson Keats and Luciano Orquera.

International out-half Orquera needs just one more point to become the first Aironi player to score 100 points in a season for the club.

ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Dan Tuohy, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Adam D’Arcy.

AIRONI RUGBY: Giulio Toniolatti; Sinoti Sinoti, Roberto Quartaroli, Matteo Pratichetti, Giovanbattista Venditti; Naas Olivier, Tito Tebaldi; Alberto de Marchi, Fabio Ongaro, Fabio Staibano, George Biagi, Carlo del Fava (capt), Joshua Furno, Nicola Cattina, Mauro Bergamasco.

Replacements: Antonio Denti, Andrea de Marchi, Salvatore Perugini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Filippo Ferrarini, Tyson Keats, Luciano Orquera, Gilberto Pavan.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/40; Draw: 50/1; Aironi Rugby to win: 13/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “Whenever Rory, Andrew and Stevie come back into the squad in gives everyone a great fillip. They have such high standards and demand the same from the other players.

“Lewis has been in very good form over the past couple of months. He was very good for us when he came off the bench in Treviso for the final 15 or 20 minutes so he deserves his chance.

“Everyone knows there are places up for grabs in every position and we have great competition throughout the squad. If players get chances they have to take them.

“With Stephen back in and Pedrie fit again, the back row is another area where we are particularly strong. It is harsh on Robbie Diack and Willie Faloon and other players who have been left out.

“It is fantastic for Pedrie to earn his 50th cap. He has been a tremendous servant to Ulster in the two seasons he has been with us.

“He has shown remarkable consistency last season and this season, despite being unfortunate with injuries in recent times.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 105; Tries: Darren Cave 4; Aironi Rugby – Points: Luciano Orquera 77; Tries: Nick Williams 5


Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Aironi Rugby 15 Ulster 22, Stadio Zaffanella
Friday, March 4, 2011 – Ulster 23 Aironi Rugby 10, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 10, 2011 – Aironi Rugby 19 Ulster 25, Stadio Zaffanella


– Ulster are currently the best performing team in the RaboDirect PRO12 having picked up 24 points from their last six matches

– The Ulstermen’s only defeat in the competition since December was a 21-14 defeat at the Cardiff Blues on February 17

– Ulster have lost only once before to an Italian side, going down 23-12 to Benetton Treviso last October

– Aironi Rugby tripped up at Glasgow last Friday and are still searching for that elusive first away victory in their history. Aironi have won two of their last three matches against Irish provinces

– The two teams have met on seven previous occasions in all competitions, with Ulster winning all seven