Ulster eventually shake off Aironi
October 8, 2010
Springbok star Ruan Pienaar was making his Heineken Cup debut in the game in Belfast
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Ulster kicked off their Heineken Cup campaign with a 30-6 victory over tournament newcomers Aironi at Ravenhill on Friday night - but Brian McLaughlin's men were made to work hard for the bonus point they so desperately craved.
Indeed, the Ulstermen initially struggled to break their Italian visitors down and trailed 6-3 at the end of the first quarter following two penalties from Aironi fly-half Ludovic Mercier. However, Andrew Trimble crossed on 21 minutes to help the hosts into an 11-6 lead at the interval before a much-fancied Ulster side finally showed what they could do in the second period, notching further tries from Ian Humphreys, Simon Danielli and Ruan Pienaar.
Looking to get tries on the board as quickly as possible, Ulster immediately attacked after receiving the kick-off and with Jamie Smith and Pienaar prominent in the sweeping attack, the province took play up into Aironi's 22, from where Pienaar landed a first-minute penalty.
Four minutes later, though, Mercier tied the scores after some crossing from Ulster and was then wide with a long-range effort after Ulster collapsed a maul. However, Pienaar was then also off target with a 30-metre effort which came off the upright before Mercier slotted his second to give the Italians a three-point lead.
This fired Ulster into life and, just after Trimble was penalised for receiving a forward pass on a diagonal run, Ulster produced a huge shove at the scrum and shunted the visitors off the ball. Robbie Diack picked up and fed Pienaar, whose superb flick pass found Trimble and the winger steamed over in the corner.
Ulster continued to press thereafter and Johann Muller tried to force his way over, the South African's efforts to do so eventually leading to Marco Bortolami being binned for cynically killing the ball. However, the home side failed to take advantage and spilled a number of scoring chances before Pienaar slotted his second penalty just as Bortolami was returning to leave just five points between the sides at the interval.
Ulster needed a quick score in the second half and got one thanks to some sloppy work from Nick Williams, who failed to deal with a Humphreys kick to the left corner, thus allowing the home side's flay-half to run up and touch the ball down as Williams looked on helplessly. The angle was too tight for Pienaar's conversion but Ulster now had a 10-point lead.
On the hour mark, Ulster got their third score after Chris Henry snaffled the ball back after Aironi had stolen a lineout and launched an attack up the right with Muller and Best. The ball was quickly recycled and spun wide to where Danielli juggled it before diving over.
Humphreys slotted an excellent touchline conversion and then, seven minutes later, the bonus point arrived after great work from Diack allowed Pienaar dart over to the right of the posts. It was mission accomplished, as far as Ulster were concerned. Now, on to Biarritz.
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