Ulster out to complete the job
January 21, 2011
Ian Humphreys and Paddy Wallace celebrate victory over Biarritz © Getty Images
Ulster travel to face Aironi at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella on Saturday with their sights set on five points and a place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
The Irish province scraped across the line 9-6 against Biarritz last weekend to draw level at the top of Pool 4, keeping alive their hopes of making the last eight for the first time since they went all the way in 1999.
Aironi were torn apart 55-16 by Bath in the last round, the visitors to Biarritz this weekend, but will go out in hope of repeating their famous upset of the French giants in round three.
Aironi - Player to Watch: Partnering James Marhsall at halfback will be 22-year-old English scrum-half Michael Wilson, who enjoyed a short spell with Saracens before heading to Italy.
Aironi - Team News: Marco Bortolami and Quintin Geldenhuys provide the grunt in the second-row while a powerful front-row of Matias Aguero, Fabio Ongaro and Fabio Staibano will hope to get the upper hand at the scrum. Julien Laharrague, the match-winner against Biarritz, continues at fullback.
Ulster - Player to Watch: If the hosts are to get the five points they desire then they will need a strong performance from their sharpest instrument, the powerful Andrew Trimble.
Ulster - Team News: Rory Best and BJ Botha have both been ruled out with injury, leading to starts for Nigel Brady and Declan Fitzpatrick in the front-row. Stephen Ferris starts in the back-row along with Willie Faloon and Pedrie Wannenburg while Ian Humphreys and Ruan Pienaar remain at halfback.
Key Battle: With Humphreys and Pienaar pulling the strings Ulster will have the edge with ball in hand, but Aironi will be well organised and boast a pack at home with slowing the ball down and creating a dogfight. Ulster's pacy back-row must get through plenty of work to keep them ticking over.
Trivia: Aironi's 30-6 loss at Ravenhill was their first outing in the Heineken Cup following the franchise's creation.
Stats: Trimble needs two tries to draw level with the legendary David Humphreys as Ulster's leading try-scorer in the Heineken Cup.
"We know we have to go to Aironi. We're under no illusions we've got to go there and get the win and if we get a bonus point even better. We can't do anything about [Biarritz's last game at home to Bath] and we have to hope that Bath go there and do a good job." - Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin.
"We expect Aironi to be better than that - but in other respects, as a group, it's been really positive. It just took a very strong Bath side to give us a reality check." - Aironi boss Rowland Phillips reflects on defeat to Bath last weekend.
Prediction: Aironi have nothing but pride to play for and should be there for the taking, Ulster must hold their nerve and avoid the pitfalls shown in Biarritz's surprise loss to the Italians.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
On Saturday, New Zealand face the USA in a match that has been 40 years in the making. Tom Hamilton finds the atmosphere building in Chicago
Most modern rugby players will not know the name Ray Williams but they should be eternally grateful to him, writes John Taylor
With the All Blacks playing the USA Eagles this weekend, Craig Dowd says rugby is ready to make a professional breakthrough Stateside
"He had a death stare so you'd know when you were wrong." George Kruis talks about his mentor Borthwick, fly-fishing and his England aspirations