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McLaughlin issues Ulster warning

Brian McLaughlin wasn't all that bothered by his side's failure to pick up a winning bonus point on Saturday -- but he was more than a little irked by the unsatisfactory penalty count which could easily have cost Ulster the game.

Having registered two tries in the opening half hour (one apiece for Ian Whitten and Dan Tuohy), the northern province looked well placed to bag all five points.

However, a faltering set-piece combined with some dreadful discipline (14 penalties) served to keep Aironi in the game and it took a second-half try from Craig Gilroy to ease Ulster past the post.

"For the first time in a long time we've been in double figures in penalties," said McLaughlin after the final whistle. "That's a very disappointing statistic for us. We pride ourselves on the way we play in relation to our discipline and the referee.

"Just look at the game against Glasgow the week before, we gave away four penalties. But this week we went off our feet too much and we got done for it. Away from home, we can't afford to do that. If we do it in Wales, for example, we will be stung, big time."

Technical snags aside, there were plenty of positives for management to reflect on, not least the combined showing of the younger brigade.

Gilroy (20), Nevin Spence (21) and Adam Darcy (25) all turned in strong performances among the backs, as did Darren Cave (24), who later suggested that Ulster's young players can form the backbone of future Irish sides.

"If we continue to improve, then our younger players are going to start playing for Ireland," said Cave.

"If we keep getting into shop windows such as the league semi-finals and knockout stages of the Heineken Cup -- just as Munster and Leinster always do -- then there's no reason why they can't be selected.

"But we have to keep improving," added the Holywood native. "We know that if we produce the same level of performance (as against Aironi) against other teams, it sometimes won't be enough.

"We're creating a lot of chances, but we have to put more of them away. Do that and we'll start coming away with more bonus points. We're two from two now, so you have to be happy, but I think there's definitely more to come from Ulster."

Aironi -- R Trevisan (G Pavan 62); R Pavan, R Quartaroli, G Pizarro (A Benettin 62), G Venditti; N Olivier, T Tebaldi (G Bronzini 75); M Aguero (A De Marchi 52), R Santamaria (capt) (D Giazzon 70), F Staibano (L Redolfini 54); J Furno (F Viljoen 48) G Biagi; J Sole; N Cattina, N Williams (S Favaro 48).

Ulster -- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence (L Marshall 70), I Whitten; I Humphreys (P Jackson 75) , P Marshall; P McAllister (D Fitzpatrick 50), A Kyriacou (N Brady 50), J Cronin, T Barker (L Stevenson 56), D Tuohy, P Wannenburg (A Macklin 75), W Faloon (R Diack 62), C Henry (capt).

Ref -- N Hennessy (Wales).

Irish Independent