Aironi made an impressive start to their first ever Magners League campaign with a good performance against Munster last weekend – ultimately on the wrong end of a 33-17 scoreline the Italian outfit nevertheless have laid down a marker.Ulster travel to face Franco Bernini’s team this Saturday and Coach Brian McLaughlin has made five changes of personnel to the starting line-up that defeated League Champions the Ospreys in Round 1 at Ravenhill last Friday night.
Up front there are four changes of personnel and one positional switch. Tom Court and Chris Henry make their first Ulster starts having toured with Ireland in the summer while Rory Best and Stephen Ferris are rested as part of the IRFU’s player management programme.
Court comes into the starting line-up at the expense of Bryan Young who drops to the bench while Nigel Brady assumes the hooker berth with Andi Kyriacou providing cover. The second row pairing of Muller, who will captain the side, and Barker is unchanged while in the back row, Pedrie Wannenburg makes a positional switch from No8 to the blind side flank to cover for the rested Ferris, Willie Faloon moves to the bench to make way for Chris Henry at openside while Robbie Diack, who was one of last week’s replacements, starts at No8.
Amongst the backs, McLaughlin has kept faith with is young back three of D’Arcy, Seymour and McIlwaine while Darren Cave has a new centre partner in Paddy Wallace, another Ireland tourist making a first start as Ian Whitten drops to the bench. Niall O’Connor and Paul Marshall start again in the halfback positions.
The other notable change is amongst the replacements is the inclusion of Jamie Smith coming in for Jonny Shiels, having recovered from injury (eye) sustained in the opening friendly against Bath at Ravenhill.
Ulster outhalf Niall O’Connor is expecitng a tough challenge from the Magners Legaue newcomers,
“It’s certainly going to be a tough game, they have a hugely physical pack, they have a big midfield and of course Mercier at 10 has been around a long time and has a wealth of experience from the Premiership. We are under no illusions, we’re expecting a very tough game but hopefully we can go there and get the job done.”
Aironi have named a side that is unchanged from that which took on Munster last weekend.
Experienced hooker Fabio Ongaro has recovered from a thumb injury he suffered against Munster and will be in the middle of the front row between Alberto De Marchi and Salvatore Perugini. The captain Quintin Geldenhuys and former Ulster player Carlo Del Fava are the locks; Erasmus and Krause are named as the flankers with Williams at No.8
The match which kick off at 6.05pm our time will be broadcast live via BBC NI Sport Online www.bbc.co.uk/nisport
Ulster: (15-9) Adam D’Arcy; Tommy Seymour, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, David McIlwaine; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall (1-8) Tom Court, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (Captain), Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Paddy McAllister, Ryan Caldwell, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Ian Whitten, Jamie Smith
Aironi: (15-9) Julien Laharrague; Giulio Toniolatti, Roberto Quataroli, Dylan Des Fountain, Giulio Rubini; Ludovic Merceier, Tito Tebaldi (1-8) Alberto De Marchi, Fabio Ongaro, Salvatore Perugini, Carlo Del Fava, Quintin Geldenhuys (Captain), Jaco Erasmus, Gareth Krause, Nick Williams
Replacements: Andrea de Marchi, Luigi Ferraro, Luca Redolfini, Marco Bortolami, Josh Sole, Pablo Canavosio, Alberto Benettin, Gabriel Pizarro
No surprises in the backs, exactly as predicted, however there are a few differences in the pack that we didn’t see coming.
Henry starting in front of Faloon is the biggest surprise as it puts Chris out of position. However with the indications being that Pollock is going to be out for a while it does no harm to have a look at Henry in this role given the depth of cover we have in the other back row areas.
Can’t really argue over Kyriacou or Brady, both are well capable of doing the job but hopefully the Greek Adonis will get a competitive run out this week. Fitzpatrick and Court are the form players at the moment but I thought an angry Bear would have been given a chance of redemption after last weeks kerfuffles in the front row.
Again no complaints with second row, with Barker being the man in possession, though I had thought Caldwell would have been given a starting run this time round.
All in all a team sent out to do a job and while it won’t be easy against a useful enough Aironi, who should be whipped up into a frenzy for their first home Magners League match at home, I expect Ulster to build on last week’s match and post another close win.