Ulster book quarter-final berth
January 22, 2011
Aironi prop Salvatore Perugini is halted by Ian Humphreys
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Ulster booked their place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 11 years with a comfortable 43-6 victory over Aironi at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella on Saturday.
The Irish province will progress to the last eight as one of the two best runners-up following Biarritz's bonus-point triumph over Bath, the first time that they have tasted knockout rugby in Europe's premier competition since David Humphreys led them to the title in 1999.
South African No.8 Pedrie Wannenburg inspired the Magners League side with a second-half brace, with further efforts from Andrew Trimble, Chris Henry and Simon Danielli complemented by a penalty try. The home side's points came from the boot of James Marshall and Tito Tebaldi as the threat of a second major upset win, following their round three triumph over Biarritz, failed to materialise.
Ulster hit the ground running and a sweeping multiple-phase move took them deep into Aironi territory, where Jaco Erasmus could not resist a nibble at a ruck. Humphreys opened the scoring with the penalty on two minutes, but Aironi gained a foothold of their own with a purposeful maul that had the visitors scrambling in defence.
Ulster continued to press but errors undid much of their good work, with knock-ons and obstruction contributing to a number of pressure-relieving turnovers. Aironi also refused to take a backward step and fashioned an opening thanks to a well-judged offload by Marco Bortolami, with Erasmus only prevented from scoring out wide by the referee's whistle following a forward pass.
Trimble settled Ulster's nerves with the opening try of the game on 23 minutes, a precision effort off the back of a solid scrum. Ruan Pienaar broke along the shortside, through a gap left by some crafty holding in the back-row, and fed the onrushing Adam D'Arcy, who exploited the overlap with a simple scoring pass to Trimble.
Humphreys converted but Aironi took three points back with a drop-goal from Marshall just two minutes later. The Ulster fly-half then missed a regulation shot at goal to leave the hosts within a score and they duly closed the gap further before the break, with replacement scrum-half Tebaldi banging over a 40-metre penalty after a warning for Tom Court about playing the ball on the floor.
With four points between the teams at the break, Ulster began the second period with renewed fire in their bellies. It took only a minute for their second try to arrive as they attacked Aironi's pillar of strength, the maul. The Irish side's pack waded in to force them back across their line, where Wannenburg dived over to open up a handy lead, which was improved by a pinpoint Humphreys conversion.
Four minutes later, Ulster struck with a carbon-copy of their second score. Wannenburg was again the scorer, powering over at the back of a maul facilitated by a moment of madness from Matteo Pratichetti, who dived in at the side of a ruck five metres from his own line. Humphreys was again unerring with his conversion.
Ulster's bonus-point try arrived on 56 minutes and was another forward effort. A scrum five metres from the Aironi line saw the visiting front-row cause chaos and with Wannenburg unable to control at the base due to interference, referee Christophe Berdos ran underneath the posts to signal a penalty try, which Humphreys converted.
News of Biarritz's bonus-point filtered down to the Ulster fans but their side did not falter, with replacement Henry rounding off their fifth try after 66 minutes. Again the platform was laid by a dominant scrummage, from which Wannenburg snaffled the ball and broke clear, sending his back-row partner over unopposed.
There was time left for one last flourish from Ulster and fittingly another scrum set Wannenburg up with yet more good quality ball, with his blinside break providing impetus for Danielli to cross in the corner.
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