Aironi 6-43 Ulster, Heineken Cup, January 22
McLaughlin lauds 'fantastic' Ulster
January 22, 2011
Ulster head coach looks on during his side's warm-up ahead of their win over Aironi on Saturday © Getty Images
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was understandably ebullient after guiding the province into the pool stages of the Heineken Cup with a resounding 43-6 victory over Aironi in Viadana on Saturday afternoon.
The Ulstermen had not reached the knockout stages of Europe's premier club competition since lifting the trophy in 1999. However, they sealed their place in this season's last eight by picking up the victory they needed to guarantee themselves one of the two available best runners-up berths.
Ulster secured a bonus point in victory, with Pedrie Wannenburg helping himself to a hat-trick of tries, and Andrew Trimble, Chris Henry and Simon Danielli all claiming one apiece. The visitors also forced Aironi into the concession of a penalty try.
However, despite picking up a maximum haul from their trip to Italy to finish level on points with Biarritz, they were pipped to top spot in Pool 4 by the Basques, who boasted a superior head-to-head record. As a result, Ulster will be away from home in the quarters - but McLaughlin was not in the least bit perturbed.
"It's a fantastic achievement that has been a long time coming for everyone involved with Ulster over the year," the Ulster boss said. "It's a smashing day for us and we'll just have to wait for the outcome of the other games to see what the story will be in the quarter-final. But to be involved at that stage is a magnificent achievement.
"In terms of Biarritz winning, well you can never rely on anyone else to do a job for you. You have to do it yourself so we came here to win and push for the bonus point and maybe that would keep things in our hands. But all credit to Biarritz - they are a very good team."
It had not all been plain sailing for Ulster at the Stadio Luigi Zaffanella, however, as they had only led 10-6 at the break after a horribly fractious first half. However, the former champions found their feet after the restart.
"We came out of the blocks in the first half and got an early penalty. We also scored a nice try but then we let Aironi come back at us," he said.
"We forced the game too much. We turned over ball at vital times and that put pressure on ourselves. But we stood strong in the second half, kept control and finally got the reward."
Meanwhile, Aironi coach Rowland Phillips admitted that his side had ultimately come off a clear second best but was quick to heap praise on his players for the way in which they have fronted up in this year's tournament. "We competed very well in the first half but then the power of the Ulster pack took its toll. I think we have acquitted ourselves well in our first ever Heineken Cup campaign," he said.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.