Monza is the next destination for Ulster’s Heineken Cup challenge as they look to pick up their second successive bonus point win over Aironi, keeping themselves on course for a shot at quarter-final qualification.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, December 17
AIRONI RUGBY (4th) v ULSTER (2nd), Stadio Brianteo, Monza, 2.30pm local time/1.30pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 1 red button/Sky Italia)
Team News: Brian McLaughlin has made just one change to his starting team for Ulster’s return Heineken Cup match against Aironi Rugby at the Stadio Brianteo in Monza.
Ireland prop Tom Court has been recalled to the side and will help form an all-International forward pack.
Paddy McAllister is the man to make way, despite showing up well in last weekend’s first clash at Ravenhill. Court is joined in a formidable front row by Rory Best and John Afoa.
Captain Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy will again form the second row partnership, while Stephen Ferris, the man-of-the-match in his last two games, will link up with Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg in the back row.
The back-line is unchanged from the one that helped the province register a 31-10 bonus point win over the Italians in round 3.
Nevin Spence was an injury worry after taking a blow to the sternum last time out but he has recovered sufficiently and will take his place in the centre alongside Darren Cave. Adam D’Arcy has retained the full-back spot after impressing in his last two outings.
Pool 4 is the tightest at this stage of the tournament with just two points separating the top three teams. Ulster currently sit in second place, one point adrift of leaders Clermont Auvergne and one ahead of Leicester Tigers.
A second successive bonus point victory for Ulster on Saturday would put them in a strong position ahead of the final two games in the New Year.
The Ulstermen will have a home fixture against Leicester in mid-January, before travelling to the Stade Marcel Michelin where Clermont Auvergne are unbeaten in 35 matches.
Meanwhile, Aironi boss Rowland Phillips has only kept his front row and back row combinations intact from the heavy defeat in Belfast.
All of the six changes bar Quintin Geldenhuys’ return in the second row are in the back-line. The 21-year-old Ruggero Trevisan will make his third Heineken Cup start, replacing Giulio Toniolatti at full-back.
Gabriel Pizarro and Giovanbattista Venditti have both earned recalls, while Tito Tebaldi and Roberto Quartaroli make way for Andrea Masi and Luciano Orquera at outside centre and out-half respectively.
AIRONI RUGBY: Ruggero Trevisan; Sinoti Sinoti, Andrea Masi, Gabriel Pizarro, Giovanbattista Venditti; Luciano Orquera, Tyson Keats; Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Lorenzo Romano, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami (capt), Nicola Cattina, Simone Favaro, Josh Sole.
Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice, Alberto de Marchi, Fabio Staibano, George Biagi, Filippo Ferrarini, Tito Tebaldi, Naas Olivier, Roberto Quartaroli.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Tim Barker, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Stefan Terblanche.
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest, Andrew Pearce (both England)
Television Match Official: Trevor Fisher (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Aironi Rugby to win: 4/1; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 1/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “We got the five points (at Ravenhill) and we’re happy with that but we know it is going to be exceptionally tough over there.
“Aironi are more than capable of one big game – and they have already proved that in this competition – so we just have to make sure it doesn’t happen against us.
“We know they beat Biarritz Olympique in the Heineken Cup last season and we are under no illusions it will be a tough game.
“Aironi are more than capable of turning us over at home if we aren’t on the money, so we know we have to go there and do a job.
“We know this week is a whole new ball game and we are only at half-time and we have to go there and do the same, but we know what they are capable of achieving.
“We just have to make sure that when we get the ball we are clinical and play in the right areas of the pitch, if we don’t do that they will cause us problems over there.
“In the first half at Ravenhill we played exceptionally well at times but we know we are not the finished article yet.”
John Afoa (Ulster) – “I am building things up. I had two weeks off so this is only my second game back but you know the combination with Rory (Best) and Tom (Court) and the back five is coming along nicely, which is good.
“Paddy (McAllister) started against Aironi and is a real talent. We put a lot of pressure on him during the week and he had to step up. He did that and we were very happy with how it went – he really delivered and put the pressure on the rest of the pack.
“The match was a little bit scrappy at times but we were happy with the five points. The scrum went okay and the lineout was good but the breakdown is an area we need to address for this weekend as we have to travel across there to their home turf and try and do it all again.
“We have got a longer week with it being a Saturday game, so we will have a few more days to recover and to train and tweak a few things, but it is going to take another huge effort.
“We scored two good tries in the first half (last Friday) and showed a lot of patience and good rugby ability with the ball, but at the same time there were chances we let go. However, in the second half, we took our chances and got the bonus point we needed.”
Current Form – Aironi Rugby – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 32-9 away to the Scarlets; Lost 25-19 at home to Ulster; Lost 23-14 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 25-19 at home to Edinburgh; Lost 26-7 away to Leinster; Lost 37-26 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 18-6 away to Munster; Lost 18-6 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Lost 28-12 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 54-3 away to Clermont Auvergne; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 38-0 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 50-10 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Lost 31-10 away to Aironi Rugby
Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 28-14 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-19 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 20-3 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 32-14 away to the Ospreys; Lost 22-9 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-12 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 24-17 away to the Scarlets; Won 22-3 at home to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 16-11 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 20-9 away to Leicester Tigers; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 17-9 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 24-17 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 31-10 at home to Aironi Rugby
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Aironi Rugby – Points: Luciano Orquera 15; Tries: Tommaso D’Apice 1; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 31; Tries: Ian Humphreys, Stephen Ferris, Adam D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 3
Friday, December 9, 2011 – Pool 4 – Ulster 31 Aironi Rugby 10, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 22, 2011 – Pool 4 – Aironi Rugby 6 Ulster 43, Stadio Zaffanella
Friday, October 8, 2010 – Pool 4 – Ulster 30 Aironi Rugby 6, Ravenhill
Heineken Cup Records:
Aironi Rugby –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B