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Predatory Pienaar bags Ulster bonus

Ulster got their Heineken Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a bonus-point victory at Ravenhill last night.

But while Brian McLaughlin's side were dominant in every sphere, they had to wait until the 67th minute before scoring their fourth try.

Ulster clobbered Aironi at the set-pieces and were much more aggressive at the breakdown, but a lack of patience meant numerous scoring opportunities were squandered.

New signing Ruan Pienaar provided the immediate stimulus for Ulster after just two minutes. A scything break off the side of a ruck by the Springbok ended with Aironi being penalised and the scrum-half flicked over the penalty.

Former France out-half Ludovic Mercier also showed his importance to Aironi when he floated over an equalising penalty from wide out on the left three minutes later.

Right from the start Ulster showed that they were keen to move the ball through the hands with the newly-restored No 10 Ian Humphreys running at every opportunity.

Pienaar, however, is quickly making acquaintances with the Ravenhill uprights, hitting the woodwork three times on his debut last week and again last night, with his second penalty attempt rebounding out of danger.

Mercier was having better luck at as he steered over his second penalty in the 18th minute, before Ulster scored the opening try of the new Heineken Cup campaign just two minutes later.

An Aironi scrum was then overturned by a great shove by Ulster and man-of-the-match Robbie Diack picked up before passing to Humphreys, who in one movement flicked the ball right to the unmarked Andrew Trimble to charge over.

Ulster should have been helped by the sin-binning of Marco Bortolami in the 28th minute for killing ruck ball. But it proved more of a hindrance as four times in quick succession Ulster failed miserably to punish Aironi by a lack of clinical finishing.

Pienaar finally put more points on the board with his second penalty just at Bortolami returned to action on the stroke of half-time.

Humphreys was always going to give you a mixed bag, but he produced the goods four minutes after the restart. A neatly-glided kick into the corner from 40 metres out looked to be well chaperoned by Giulo Toniolatti over his own goal-line. However, he dallied and Humphreys followed up his own kick at speed to get the touchdown, much to the shock of the Aironi winger.

Ulster were well on top, but again failed to nail home their advantage as the ball again continually went to ground.

Without that killer instinct the hosts had to rely on grunt and grind, with Pedrie Wannenburg and Diack doing the rhino impressions.

The third try finally materialised on the hour mark as Johann Muller burst upfield with Chris Henry and Rory Best in support.

With the Aironi defence fragmented, the ball was spun wide on the left, with Trimble giving the scoring pass to Simon Danielli. Humphreys banged over the touchline conversion to put Ulster 23-6 ahead.


Diack looked to have grabbed the all-important fourth try in the 62nd minute, but he was adjudged to have dropped the ball over the line, much to the chagrin of the spectators

However, the Ravenhill crowd had only to wait another five minutes for that bonus-point touchdown.

Another pulverising of the Aironi set-piece allowed Diack to break right, and the astute Pienaar nipped through a hole to score at the posts, with Humphreys adding the extras.

That was more or less that as both teams cleared their benches. But Ulster will need to find that killer instinct before they travel to Biarritz next week.

Ulster -- J Smith (D McIlwaine 64); A Trimble, D Cave (I Whitten, 45), P Wallace (Brady 74), S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar (P Marshall 72); B Young (P McAllister 62), R Best (Capt), T Court (A Whitten 70), T Barker (Tuohy 51), J Muller, P Wannenburg (W Faloon 65), C Henry, R Diack.

Aironi -- D Demas; G Toniolatti , R Penney, G Pavan (G Pizarro), G Venditti; L Mercier (R Bocchino 51), T Tebaldi (P Canavosio 45); Alberto de Marchia (Andre De Marchi, R Santamaria (L Ferraro 63), L Redolfini (S Perugini 57), C del Fava, capt (V Liebenberg 65), M Bortolami, A Benatti, A Birchall (N Cattina 55) N Williams.

Ref -- C White (RFU).

Irish Independent