Playing catch-up in Pool 4 of the Heineken Cup, Ulster will be aiming to pick up as many points as possible in their back-to-back fixtures with familiar opponents Aironi.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Friday, December 9
ULSTER (3rd) v AIRONI RUGBY (4th), Ravenhill, 7.30pm
Team News: Ruan Pienaar and Paddy McAllister have both been included in the starting team for Ulster’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 match against Aironi at Ravenhill on Friday.
Brian McLaughlin has recalled Pienaar at scrum half in place of Paul Marshall, who drops to the replacements bench.
The South African is partnered at halfback with Ian Humphreys, and the back-line remains otherwise unchanged.
McAllister has also been given an opportunity to start at loosehead prop, with Ireland international Tom Court making way.
Stefan Terblanche, who arrived in Belfast last Sunday, has gone straight into the matchday squad and will win his first cap for the province if he is used as a replacement.
The former South Africa international has the ability to cover full-back, wing and centre. Elsewhere on the bench, Andi Kyriacou will provide cover at hooker instead of Nigel Brady.
Commenting on his scrum half selection, Ulster head coach McLaughlin said: “Paul is a terrific player and has proved himself over the past few weeks.
“But Ruan was the league’s Player of the Year last season so he deserves a chance. His game-time has been limited so it will be good for him to get some time on the pitch. We now have two quality scrum halves.”
He continued: “It was important for Paddy McAllister’s development to start in a match at this level. And it means we have the option to bring a quality player like Tom on if we need to.
“We also have Stefan in the squad. He’s a true professional and will add a great deal to the team in terms of his experience. He’s an international player and has played for the Ospreys in Europe so he will be comfortable if he comes on.”
There are still tickets available for Friday’s game. 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 boss Rowland Phillips has made nine changes in personnel to the side that started last weekend’s heavy league defeat at Edinburgh.
Giulio Toniolatti, Roberto Quartaroli and Tyson Keats return to the back-line, with Matteo Pratichetti reverting to the left wing and Tito Tebaldi switching to out-half in place of the benched Naas Olivier.
It is all change in the front row where experienced hooker Fabio Ongaro is joined by Salvatore Perugini and Lorenzo Romano, who will be making his first Heineken Cup start.
Former Ulster lock Carlo del Fava will partner captain Marco Bortolami in the second row, and Simone Favaro gets the nod at openside flanker.
Aironi, coached by Welshman Phillips, are in only their second season of Heineken Cup rugby and have still to win a game on the road. However, they did secure a shock victory over Biarritz in Viadana twelve months ago.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Paddy McAllister, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Stefan Terblanche.
AIRONI: Giiulio Toniolatti; Sinoti Sinoti, Roberto Quartaroli, Gabriel Pizarro, Matteo Pratichetti; Tito Tebaldi, Tyson Keats; Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Lorenzo Romano, Carlo del Fava, Marco Bortolami (capt), Nicola Cattina, Simone Favaro, Josh Sole.
Replacements: Tommaso D’Apice, Alberto de Marchi, Luca Redolfini, George Biagi, Filippo Ferrarini, Giorgio Bronzini, Naas Olivier, Gilberto Pavan.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest, Andrew Watson (both England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/40; Draw: 50/1; Aironi Rugby to win: 14/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – “The injury happened in training. I was running to the ruck and I just felt something tweak in my hamstring. I’ve never had a hamstring problem before and, well, I was just so very disappointed.
“You always think about it (the hamstring) and think, ‘What if it happens again?’ But it’s feeling good and I’ve been doing two-and-a-half weeks of running now and getting back to fitness.
“There’s still a long way to go as I need to get back playing again and get sharp again.
“It’s definitely important for us to get the 10 points (from the two games against Aironi). It’s going to be a big test for us and we need to be mentally ready and definitely more clinical and accurate.
“We just must cut out our mistakes as for us it’s really been our Achilles heel this season. We just need to play well as a team and then everything will hopefully look after itself.”
Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “If we are to be honest, then we need to do that (get two bonus point wins) again, if we are to have any chance of getting out of the group again.
“If we do, that would put us top of the pool going into the final two games, and being in that position, as we know from previous experience, is crucial in that we can at least control our own destination to a degree.
“We have to be very careful that we do not get too far ahead of ourselves talking about bonus points. We have to get the 10 if we want to progress but we have to be careful in that we don’t get ahead of ourselves.
“It’s important we do the hard work. For the first 20 or 25 minutes we have to be bang on our game-plan and we have to make sure we hold onto the ball.”
Current Form – 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
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
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 25; Tries: Ian Humphreys 1; Aironi Rugby – Points: Luciano Orquera 15; Tries: –
Previous European Meetings: 2
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:
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
Aironi Rugby –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 4