McLaughlin relieved as Ulster make 'heavy work' of Italian job
It was far from pretty, but Ulster will be happy enough with their second successive Magners League success after edging new boys Aironi at a packed Stadio Zaffanella on Saturday night.
Coach Brian McLaughlin got what he expected from the Italians: a physical battle that dulled the mind and stagnated Ulster's play, while often looking clueless with ball in hand.
"It was a hard-fought game and we made very heavy work of it," said McLaughlin. "We made a lot of errors and our set piece was just not clinical enough.
"I'm very pleased and a little relieved to have taken the points. Over the past couple of weeks, Aironi have shown that they are more than capable of competing in the Magners League. We're not getting ahead of ourselves. We've got plenty to work on."
Once again, Niall O'Connor did the business with a 17-point haul, just like last week in the narrow victory over the Ospreys, although his kicking in balmy conditions was far from perfect.
The out-half landed five penalties and converted the only try of the game from No 8 Robbie Diack, who pilfered a long pass from Aironi's Ludovic Mercier to scamper away.
French out-half Mercier, though, landed four penalties in total and a drop-goal on the restart which levelled the game at 9-9. However, Ulster made the most of the sin-binning of Gabriel Pizarro, with O'Connor's fourth penalty and Diack's try on the hour putting some daylight between the sides.
But it was still a nervous finish at the end, with Mercier's fourth penalty and Pedrie Wannenburg's yellow card four minutes from time giving McLaughlin palpitations. But just as it did last week, Ulster's defence held out.
Aironi -- J Laharrague; G Toniolatti, R Quartaroli, D des Fountain (G Pizarro 2), G Rubini; L Mercier, T Tebaldi (P Canavosio 45); A De Marchi (L Redolfini 60), F Ongaro (L Ferraro 60), S Perugini; C del Fava (M Bortolami 45), Q Geldenhuys; J Erasmus (J Sole 60), G Krause, N Williams.
Ulster -- A D'Arcy; T Seymore, D Cave, P Wallace, D McLlwaine; N O'Connor, P Marshall (I Porter 60); T Court (P McAllister 73), N Brady (A Kyriacou 69), D Fitzpatrick (B Young 4); J Muller, T Barker (Caldwell 62); P Wannenburg, C Henry (W Faloon 60), R Diack.
Ref -- David Jones (Wales).