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Christmas bonus helps to maintain Ulster push

Ulster's European fate remains in their own hands after they put Aironi to the sword in Monza yesterday to claim top spot in Pool 4.

There remains plenty of heavy lifting to be done when the competition resumes in the new year, of course, but Brian McLaughlin's men can at least try to enjoy the Christmas period knowing they have done all they could have done in the back-to-back fixtures.

With Ulster's next opponents Leicester winning at home and a trip to the Massif Central still to come, one couldn't help feeling that four tries were a minimum requirement in the Milanese suburb, and Ulster duly obliged.

In the end they got six, with Andrew Trimble, Tom Court, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Adam Macklin all on the mark, as well as a first-half penalty try which added to Italian woes.

Three of those were secured during a first half in which Ulster dominated from the first minute.

They might have had a dozen had their finishing been a touch more slick, most notably four minutes in when Trimble inexplicably lost control of the ball over the try-line when attempting to touch down one-handed.

The Derry man made immediate amends, however, just about holding Ian Humphreys' flat pass to barge his way over the chalk from five metres.

Humphreys converted, and then added a penalty, and although Luciano Orquera pulled back three points back for the home side, this was indeed one-way traffic in the Gran Prix city.

Ulster led 10-3 midway through the half, but really the margin should have been greater with the Aironi rearguard at sixes and sevens, mainly due to the clever running lines of Trimble and Adam D'Arcy.

It was the forwards who took the plaudits for try number two, however, a penalty try awarded after a 15-metre rolling maul was dragged down just short of the line.

Humphreys again converted and, leading 17-3 with two tries in the bag, Ulster's Italian job was already half complete.

Humphreys added another penalty, and try number three duly arrived shortly before the break, Court this time crossing the chalk following a series of pick and drives, and Humphreys once again on the mark with the conversion.

Leading by 24 points, the challenge for Ulster was to maintain their intensity after the break, but it took them an age to regain their rhythm, Aironi finally playing with some conviction.

Indeed, it was Italians who struck first in the second half, Sinoti Sinoti slipping in after a period of sustained pressure, Orquera adding the extras.

A game that was dead at half-time then came further alive when Roberto Quartaroli sprinted home from 70 metres for Aironi's second try -- 27-15 now, with 60 minutes gone.

With the travelling support becoming increasingly uncomfortable, Ulster finally woke up during the final quarter, however, and Gilroy's try ten minutes from time secured the all-important bonus point.

Aironi refused to die, and Alberto de Marchi scored a late consolation try before Diack and Macklin both touched down to put the icing on the cake for Ulster.

Aironi: R Trevisan (R Quartaroli 48); S Sinoti, A Masi, G Pizarro, G Venditti; L Orquera, T Keats; S Perugini (A de Marchi 41), F Ongaro (T D'Apice 45), L Romano (F Staibano 45); Q Geldenhuys (G Biagi 45), M Bortolami (capt); N Cattina, S Favaro, J Sole.

Ulster: A D'Arcy; A Trimble (S Terblanche 50), D Cave, N Spence (P Jackson 45) (N Brady 67), C Gilroy; I Humphreys (P Marshall 65), R Pienaar; T Court (P McAllister 50), R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg (R Diack 65).

Referee: G Garner (Eng)

Sunday Indo Sport