Ulster v Aironi, Heineken Cup, October 8
Ulster out to hit the ground running
October 7, 2010
Ulster winger Andrew Trimble is in the hunt for more European tries © Getty Images
Ulster enter the Heineken Cup with renewed confidence given their strong start to the Magners League season. They face Italian side Aironi in round one at Ravenhill on Friday night and will be desperate to lay down a marker to both Bath and Biarritz in Pool 4.
Ulster are unbeaten so far this season, with four wins and a draw to their name in the Magners League, a stark contrast to Aironi, who have found the going tough in comparison to their Italian counterparts, Benetton Treviso. The sides met in Italy earlier in the season - Ulster running out 22-15 victors thanks to a Robbie Diack try.
Bolstered by several well-judged summer signings and emboldened by their domestic form, Ulster have high hopes of upsetting the Munster-Leinster stranglehold on the Heineken Cup - they need to start here.
Ulster - Player to Watch: Springbok Ruan Pienaar makes his Heineken Cup debut at scrum-half for the home side. He prefers No.9 to 10 and Ulster seem happy to let him play there - his class will be immediately evident.
Ulster - Team News: Pienaar is one of three Springboks in the starting line-up as Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg both start in the pack. Paddy Wallace is named at inside-centre and Ian Humphreys at fly-half.
Aironi - Player to Watch: Former Cheetahs flyer Danwel Demas is a genuine threat with ball in hand. He has pace to burn but is prone to the odd mistake. He starts at fullback.
Aironi - Team News: Former Saracens back Rodd Penney starts at outside-centre, while Ludovic Mercier is paired with Italian international Tito Tebaldi at halfback. Carlo Antonio del Fava skippers the side with another familiar face, former Italy skipper Marco Bortolami, alongside him in the second-row. Regular captain Quintin Geldenhuys misses out through injury.
Key Battle: Ulster will desperately want a five-point return from this one and their backline will have to click. Humphreys and Pienaar are both good playmakers and should have far too much invention for the solid Mercier and Tebaldi.
Trivia: Ulster have faced Italian opposition in Europe on four occasions and are yet to taste defeat.
Stats: Ulster winger Andrew Trimble needs five tries during this season's tournament to overtake the legendary David Humphreys at the top of the Ulster try-scoring charts.
"I know it's going to be a different intensity to what we have seen so far but I'm ready for that. When it's time to step up you've got to lift your performance in order to cope with the increased physicality and speed of the game at that higher level." - Ulster lock Johann Muller.
Prediction: Aironi have made a slow start to their domestic campaign and will not fancy a trip to Ravenhill. Five points should go the way of the home side.
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