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Ulster Pick Up Bonus Point Against Aironi

Ulster Pick Up Bonus Point Against Aironi

Clinical Ulster get the required result at a chilly Ravenhill on Friday night, freezing out Italian visitors Aironi by five tries to one as they secured what could prove to be a vital bonus point in their quest for Heineken Cup progress.

A second successive man-of-the-match performance from Stephen Ferris in as many weeks, backed up by a patient and disciplined approach from the entire team, saw Ulster claim all five points.

The result extended the province’s unbeaten home run in Europe to nine matches and moved them top of the Pool 4 table ahead of Sunday’s clash between Leicester Tigers and Clermont Auvergne.

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The only two changes to the Ulster starting line-up saw Paddy McAllister come in for Tom Court in the front row, and the fit-again Ruan Pienaar donned the number 9 jersey after a run-out as replacement against the Scarlets.

A notable inclusion on the bench, meanwhile, was veteran Springbok Stefan Terblanche, drafted in to provide cover at full-back for long-term injury victim Jared Payne.

With the Italians penalised as early as the second minute for collapsing a scrum, Ulster eschewed the chance to notch up three easy points, as Pienaar instead kicked for touch.

The opportunity soon went a-begging as Ulster infringed, but the episode served as an early statement of the hosts’ intent.

Five minutes later Ulster came closer still to the try-line as Ian Humphreys knocked a low kick onwards for Nevin Spence to chase inside the Aironi 22 and although the centre failed to collect, it was another warning sign for the visitors.

When the inevitable first try arrived in the 16th minute, it was thanks to a more patient and measured approach from the Ulstermen after good yard-stealing work from Adam D’Arcy in the midfield.

Ulster kept the ball in hand across the pitch from right to left, eventually picking out Ferris on the left flank. The bustling flanker, enjoying a prolific patch after his two tries last Friday against the Scarlets, used his all brawn to power over in the corner. Humphreys added a well-struck conversion.

Tito Tebaldi quickly claimed  three points with a 20th minute penalty, and could have doubled his tally four minutes later, but his kick from distance on the left wing lacked the requisite bend and fell wide of the left hand upright.

Humphreys then missed a penalty of his own on the half hour mark when it looked for all the world to be arching just inside the posts, before Tibaldi once more failed to hit the target moments later.

With Aironi full-back Giulio Toniolatti yellow carded in the 36th minute for illegally interfering with the ball as Pienaar attempted to play it, Ulster had the extra incentive they needed.

The home side orchestrated several impressive phases before Darren Cave found the killer pass for D’Arcy to ground in the same spot as Ferris had earlier on. An errant Humphreys conversion attempt brought the half to a close, but Ulster ran off at the break with a 12-3 buffer.

Some trademark penetration from Ferris just after the restart proved too much for the Italian defence to deal with, and quick Ulster recycling from the breakdown culminated in Andrew Trimble being unleashed on the right wing.

The powerfully-builty winger rode a handful of tackles to touch down acrobatically in the corner and although Humphreys’ indifferent night with the boot continued, Ulster’s lead was beginning to look comfortable.

With Trimble, McAllister and Pienaar making way for Terblanche, Court and Paul Marshall respectively, and Paddy Jackson soon joining the fray in place of an injured Spence, Ulster’s reshuffled side continued in the same vein as the starters had.

The ever alert Marshall once again made an immediate impact, tapping a quick penalty to himself and darting over the line for the bonus point score in the 56th minute. Humphreys’ conversion was inch perfect this time, and his side led 24-3.

Although the match was already over as a contest, Ulster continued to press, and a smartly-worked chain of passes across the line with 12 minutes left allowed teenager Jackson to sneak over for a fully-deserved fifth try, which Humphreys tagging on the extras.

Aironi registered a consolation try through Tomasso D’Apice with two minutes remaining, but this did little to dampen Ulster spirits. The emphatic nature of their victory will see Brian McLaughlin’s charges go into next Saturday’s return fixture in Viadana full of confidence.