Ulster made it two wins from two in the Magners League on Saturday night, despite displaying a less than perfect performance.
Ulster kicked off their new season with a narrow 27-26 win against the Ospreys last Friday night. It was therefore not surprising to hear the mood around camp was positive and upbeat, as the squad prepared for their next match against Italian side, Aironi.
Aironi, who are making their debut in the Magners League this season, made Munster work hard for their win last weekend, proving they wouldn’t be a walkover in the competition. This weekend was no different as they pushed Ulster right to the eighty minutes.
The BBC’s coverage of the match started five minutes later than the kick-off, so it was probably just as well that the first action of the night came shortly after, with Aironi fly-half Ludovic Mercier kicking the first penalty. Niall O’Connor levelled the score with a penalty of his own on fifteen minutes. Score Ulster 3 – Aironi 3.
Aironi were punished again on 22 minutes, with O’Connor slotting over a difficult – and long-distance – kick from his own half, taking his side to a 6-3 lead. Things appeared to be looking up for the visiting team when Aironi’s Number 8, Nick Williams, was yellow-carded on 33 minutes for using abusive language and coming in from the side.
Missed penalties from both teams wound the clock down towards the half-time whistle, and it looked like Ulster were about to widen the scores when Paddy Wallace and Robbie Diack stormed through Aironi’s defense. Unfortunately Chris Henry was put into touch before he could score a try, but O’Connor safely landed his third penalty, to take Ulster 9-6 into the lead at half-time.
Two minutes into the second half and Mercier equalised the scores once again with an impressive drop goal, and a series of errors from the Ulster players, allowed the Italians another penalty and another chance to take the lead for the second time in the game.
As the hour mark of the match threatened, Aironi replacement Luca Redolfini found himself on the wrong side of the referee when he was sin-binned for deliberately slowing down play. Ulster wasted no time with the one-man advantage and an impressive intercepted pass by Diack, led to him scoring the only try of the match. A successful conversion by O’Connor brought the score to Ulster 19 – Aironi 12.
Infringements were committed by both sides over the next ten minutes, with Mercier and O’Connor both slotting over a penalty each, taking the score to Ulster 22 – Aironi 15.
Just when it looked like Ulster were going to get their victory, newcomer Pedrie Wannenburg found himself yellow carded on 76 minutes, for failing to roll away after a tackle. Aironi – with a renewed determination – pushed Ulster back onto their own try line, and looked to have scored a try. Luckily for Ulster, the TMO awarded no try, as Ulster scrum-half Ian Porter managed to get under the ball and stop it from being grounded.
Ulster’s defence continued to hold strong, and as the final whistle blew, Ulster had claimed their second victory of the new season. The final score was Ulster 22 – Aironi 15.
Thoughts on the game.
Simply? Not good enough.
Yes, whilst Aironi have proved they won’t be an easy opposition for any team this season, they weren’t on great form last night – something which Ulster should have capitalised on early into the game. Ulster themselves seemed to struggle under the pressure; and numerous knock-ons, poor passing and lack of discipline, once again allowed the opposition to continually creep back into the game.
Aironi had two men in the bin – that was twenty minutes when Ulster should have made the difference to make sure the Italians could not come back. Yet, the only thing we had to show for it at the end was one try – scored by Diack, from an intercepted pass.
Oft times, I felt like I was watching a match from last season, where the team seemed to be at a loss at what to do. The silly schoolboy errors which cost Ulster so many points last season were again on show, and it is something which should have been straightened out during their training sessions long ago.
If I steer away from the negatives, Ulster did manage to secure 4 more much needed points, which is more than they had achieved at the same stage last season.
Diack, Muller and Barker all had a good game and I think Diack was deservedly the Man Of The Match. The introduction of Faloon also made a huge improvement to the squad I felt, as he made a number of key tackles and was always a part of the action – the only thing I will say is I would have brought him onto the pitch sooner.
But I guess the old adage ‘a win is a win’, is true and I think every supporter will be happy with two wins from two, despite how scrappy they may have been. Yet, the fact remains: if Ulster wish to progress in the League and be viewed as a team to be wary of, much work is still needed to be done.
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